Andrey Maslov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Greece, talks about bilateral relations between Athens and Moscow in an interview with Izvestia: “The ties between our countries have been completely destroyed by the Greek side.”
Andrei Maslov notes that even cultural cooperation has been frozen. And there are significantly fewer tourists from Russia in Greece in 2022 than in the pandemic 2020 – only 15 thousand people in six months. The diplomat also states that some sectors of the Greek economy related to Russian tourists, such as fur, “are in ruins”, having lost 90% of their customers. The diplomat also warned about caution by Russian citizens in Greece, while noting the improvement in the situation. And he said that there were no negotiations on the resumption of air traffic between Greece and the Russian Federation.
Andrey Maslov’s interview with Izvestia, published by GreekReporter.
— Reuters reported that Greece has cut Russian gas imports by more than 50% this year by increasing supplies from other producers to its only LNG terminal. Is it really? What is the current level of gas supplies to Greece?
— According to Russian customs statistics, natural gas accounts for approximately 40% of our total exports to Greece. Based on our estimates, over the eight months of this year, the physical volume of gas supplies did decline, but not by 50%, but by 10%. In value terms, gas supplies almost quadrupled, from $540 million to $2 billion.
— For a long time, Greece and Cyprus did not support the introduction of a price ceiling for Russian oil. However, in the end, they agreed to the proposal. EU. Was this decision taken under pressure from the West? Will Russia continue to supply gas and oil to Greece after the country joined the price cap initiative?
— Greece did not immediately support the idea of a price ceiling on Russian energy resources as an alternative to a complete embargo. Analysts say that this was due, for example, to the position of the Greek shipowners, who will suffer big losses if they cannot transport Russian oil. However, in the end, the Greek government nevertheless sided with Brussels.
Russia’s position on this matter is well known. It was formulated by President Vladimir Putin (on October 12, at the Russian Energy Week, he announced that the Russian Federation would not supply oil to countries that set a price ceiling. – Ed.). One can only add that the reputable Greek businessmen involved in the energy sector have learned our position, so they have repeatedly issued warnings that the introduction of a ceiling price on Russian energy carriers will automatically mean the termination of their supplies.
– In July, you said that there were practically no Russian tourists in Greece this year. How much has the flow from Russia to Greece fallen this year, compared to 2021 or 2019?
– The flow of tourists from Russia to Greece has practically dried up. According to Rosstat, in the first half of the year it amounted to about 15 thousand people, which is half as much compared to last year, moreover, a pandemic one. In the spring, at the beginning of summer, our fellow citizens practically did not go to Greece. For comparison: even in the first six months of the pandemic 2020, the number of trips reached 19 thousand people, and in 2019 and in previous years, the number of our tourists who visited Greece was in the hundreds of thousands – about 700-800 thousand. There was even a record 2013 the year when 1.3 million Russian tourists visited Greece. Now, of course, the situation is different.
– In August, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that cases of discrimination against Russians and aggression against them were recorded in Greece …
– In the spring, the consular department of the embassy and the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Thessaloniki received reports of provocations, insults, physical attacks on Russian citizens living in Greece, Russian compatriots and ordinary Russian speakers. The source of aggression was, of course, not the Greeks, but the nationalist-minded Ukrainians who were in the country. Often, it was impossible to verify the accuracy of the information due to the fact that they came from third parties without video and photo recording, did not contain accurate data on the names of victims at the scene of the incident, and so on.
Nevertheless, there have been some confirmed cases of attacks on our citizens and compatriots. They are well known. At one time, they received quite detailed coverage in the Russian media space and were recorded in a recent report by the Russian Foreign Ministry on violations of the rights of Russian citizens in foreign countries and their Russophobic hysteria.
As I said, the peak came in the spring. Now the situation has improved markedly. The reason is that, unlike most EU member states, in Greek society, the memory of our common cultural, spiritual and historical ties is very strongly and deeply rooted. It would be an exaggeration on my part now to say that Greece is not a safe country. But nevertheless, Russians who still want to relax here are still advised to be careful and vigilant.
– How did the ban on flights from the Russian Federation and the resulting restriction of the tourist flow affect the Greek economy?
— Judging by the statements of the Prime Minister of Greece [Кириакоса Мицотакиса], which he did in early March, Athens does not consider the loss of the Russian market for its tourism industry fatal. The local leadership hopes that this year’s massive tourist flow from other countries will easily compensate for the absence of Russian holidaymakers. However, many experts still believe that the absence of our tourists will not go unnoticed for the Greek economy. There are several hotel chains here that have traditionally worked with Russian tourists for decades. They have experienced the absence of hundreds of thousands of our citizens this year. In addition, there are some industries that have also suffered. A textbook example is fur production, the main customers (under 90%) were Russians. Now this industry is in ruins.
No general assessments of the damage from anti-Russian sanctions have yet been made. But the fact that they are hitting the Greek economy with a boomerang is recognized even by the local authorities, interpreting this as a payment for the right to be on the so-called right side of history.
The restrictions, of course, exacerbated the turbulent situation in the Greek economy, suffering from the high cost of energy resources. True, in the view of the government [Греции] Moscow is still to blame for the crisis, which allegedly unleashed a war in Ukraine and allegedly uses gas as an energy weapon. Although everyone is well aware that the reason for the high cost is not at all a special military operation, but anti-Russian sanctions. As of September this year, gas prices in Greece have increased by 332% over the year. Given that more than half of imported natural gas is used in the power industry, the burden on households and industry is constantly growing.
High energy prices have led to a record inflation over the past 30 years, undermining the purchasing power of the population (in August and September inflation reached 11.4% – Ed.) and, as a result, consumer demand in all sectors. The inflationary impact led to an explosive increase in the cost of jet fuel and, accordingly, air tickets. Greek shipping companies have raised ferry ticket prices more than once since the beginning of the year. Many experts here consider the sanctions futile in terms of damaging Russia and harmful to the Greek economy.
– Are there voices in Greece, perhaps from the same hotel chains or from airlines that call on the authorities to restore air traffic with Russia?
There are practically no such voices. There is also no talk of restoring air traffic, because this decision was made by the Greek government at the end of February as part of the general EU sanctions against Russia. We have taken, as you know, mirror measures. Air traffic has completely stopped, and now there is no dialogue about its restoration.
– If we take relations between Russia and Greece as a whole, maybe there are areas in which ties are still maintained?
– Now there are practically no bilateral ties between our countries, because they are completely destroyed by the Greek side, even Russian-Greek cultural cooperation has been stopped. Something is being done in the economic sphere. Some Greek companies continue to operate in Russia. Some Russian companies operate in Greece, but nothing more.
— How do Russian pilgrims now get to the monasteries on Mount Athos? Do they face ethnic discrimination?
“We don’t have any information about Russians not being allowed there, because permission to visit the holy mountain is issued by the Holy Kinot, and Russians can still come there. Neither the embassy nor the consulate general in Thessaloniki received any signals that someone would be discriminated against on a national basis.
– Are contacts between the Russian Orthodox Church and the monks on Mount Athos maintained or were they also broken as a result of what has been happening in the last eight months?
– We do not have such information, but, as is known, the Eucharistic communion between the Russian Orthodox Church and the head of the Hellenic Orthodox Church was terminated, since the latter recognized the Ukrainian schismatics (in 2018, on the initiative of the ex-president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Orthodox The Church of Ukraine (OCU) received a tomos of autocephaly from Bartholomew, Archbishop Jerome of Athens and All Greece recognized the autocephaly of the OCU, after which, in early 2019, the Russian Orthodox Church stopped Eucharistic communion with him.—Ed.). As for Athos, its monasteries are the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. But we have no information that our pilgrims stopped visiting Athos, and this is not part of our functions. Pilgrims go, well, that’s good.
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