Public Affairs Networking
09/04 – Media comment on much anticipated Tsipras-Putin meeting

There is wide coverage of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting in Moscow. The news made the headlines of several front pages today. The INYT and the WSJE say Tsipras is “cozying up to Putin.” The WSJE adds that the meeting is a “show of defiance from both leaders to Brussels,” whereas other commentators tone down the impact of the meeting.

Some media such as Le Monde and The WSJE stress the symbolic importance of the meeting. Efimerida ton Syntakton reports that the first day of Mr Tsipras’s visit closed with three pivotal agreements between Greece and Russia, related to investments in infrastructures, the construction of a natural gas pipeline that will cross Greece and the creation of Greek-Russian enterprises in the food sector.

The WSJE says the meeting marked a joint show of defiance against Brussels, which both leaders criticised for constraining Greece. FAZ’s Reinhard Veser writes that its effect as a political signal is already being felt. Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said that an increasing number of European member states were growing tired of the “counter-productive” sanctions. Some media quote Mr Tsipras’s public criticism of Western sanctions against Russia as “a road to nowhere”, noting that it “heightened concerns that the visit is evidence of emerging cracks in European unity” (INYT).

But overall, most media agree no major announcements were made. Russia and Greece both insisted Greece had not asked Russia for financial assistance. In an interview with ZDF, Martin Schulz says he is not surprised Alexis Tsipras has taken a careful approach to his visit to Russia, and he is relieved Mr Tsipras did not stray from official European positions on Russia too much. However, he was “astonished” about the vague commitments made on energy cooperation.

Handelsblatt’s Ruth Berschens writes that the show of friendship is of little political substance: Mr Putin is not seriously considering taking on the vast amount of Greek debt, and Greece is unlikely to prevent an extension of the European sanctions with a veto. She therefore calls for more attention to the real problems in Greece: the government´s lack of interest in modernising politics and economic affairs.

In the end, Le Figaro‘s Moscow-based correspondent Pierre Avril stresses that the Greek PM’s “balancing act” could please both Brussels and Moscow: Brussels feels its bond with Athens is preserved, Mr Putin is pleased with the symbolic and widely advertised rapprochement with an EU member state, and Mr Tsipras satisfies the Greek public opinion.

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