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On a two-day visit to Athens to discuss bilateral ties as well as possible Russian investments in privatised sectors of the Greek economy, Lavrov said: “We support the Greek government’s efforts to overcome the economic difficulties. We will support these efforts in any way we can.”
Russian financiers have been eyeing the possibility of investing in Greece’s railway transportation system.
The cash-strapped Greek government has been trying to convince European and international companies to buy former state-run companies and utilities in a bid to lift the country out of a deficit.
During his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Lavrov said: “We sympathise with the efforts of your government to overcome some difficulties in the economy.”
“We take note of the progress and would be supporting your efforts in whatever way we can,” he said.
The two leaders also discussed Russian assistance and investment in Greece’s energy sector. Greece has been trying to convince Moscow to influence energy giant Gazprom to reduce the price of natural gas sold to Athens.
Greece is also seeking answers to the reason behind Gazprom’s June 2013 withdrawal from bidding on state-owned gas provider DEPA.
Lavrov also met Minister of Foreign Affairs Evangelos Venizelos to sign an agreement to declare 2016 a year of bilateral cooperation.
The Greek economy began to unravel in 2009 when the government announced it could not meet its huge debt due to massive overspending.
Its budget deficit began to surge shortly after the government financed the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The debt crisis was further exacerbated when the global economic crisis hit and the government feared defaulting on its loans. It had no choice but to seek help from the EU and the IMF.
Although the EU and IMF agreed to a total of over $300 billion in bailout loans, they demanded that the Greek government take severe measures to cut spending.
Athens agreed but this measure was met with millions of Greeks taking to the streets in protest sometimes with violence reported between demonstrators and police.
Greece’s economy has been in recession since the global economic crisis hit. However, if it is unable to show growth in the next two years, it is likely Athens will be unable to pay any debt to its foreign lenders, ultimately forcing it to leave the eurozone.
Greek officials are hoping that Russia can offer it a lifeline by boosting trade and economic ties. In 2013 more than 1 million Russian tourists visited the country; the number is expected to double in 2014.
In a meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias, Lavrov discussed Greece’s upcoming EU presidency in the first half of 2014 and developments in Syria.
For his part, Papoulias said that the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit would enhance economic exchange between the two countries, and in particular the flow of Russian tourists to Greece.