Russian President Vladimir Putin is heading to Greece on Friday as part of a charm offensive that experts say is aimed at gathering allies ahead of upcoming sanctions votes – and dividing Europe.
The Russian leader is set to meet Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos during a two-day trip the Kremlin says will likely deliver "a number of bilateral agreements" and will focus on trade, investment and joint energy and transport projects.
In an article penned by Putin for Greek newspaper Kathimerini ahead of his visit, the Russian leader bemoaned Western sanctions for restricting ties between the two countries. These sanctions were imposed in 2014 after Russia's incursion in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. European Union (EU) leaders will vote on whether to extend them in July.
"These days, Greece is Russia's important partner in Europe," Putin wrote in the article published on Thursday.
"Unfortunately, the decline in relations between Russia and the European Union stands in the way of a further strengthening of our cooperation, with an adverse effect on the dynamics of bilateral trade that fell by a third to $2.75 billion as compared to last year," he said. He added that Greek farmers took a substantial hit from the decline in trade.