JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I am happy to meet with you again! It is now 10:00 o’clock in the evening, and you are still working. I understand that this is a difficult day, and we are meeting a few hours before your visit to Moscow. This is not the first time you will visit our country. They are waiting for you in Russia, and you have talks ahead of you with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What do you expect out of this visit, and how exactly is your personal dialogue with the Russian President shaped.
AL. TSIPRAS First of all, thank you for the effort you made to travel to Greece. This is the second time I have the honour of granting you an in interview. And it is a great pleasure for me to be able to communicate, through your station, with the friendly Russian people. This is my third visit to Russia in my capacity as Prime Minister. My first visit to Moscow took place approximately a few months following my election in 2015. The second took place to St. Petersburg in 2015, at the St. Petersburg Forum.
It was a difficult time then for Greece. We took over the country’s government at a very critical period, through difficult negotiations and faced with bankruptcy. We succeeded, though in overcoming this crisis, I believe. Our choice of strategy, from the beginning, when I took over my duties, was to deepen Greek-Russian relations, to thaw them I would say, because a long period existed where, despite the lasting friendship between our peoples and the long-standing diplomatic relations – we are now celebrating 190 successive years of diplomatic ties – these ties were, nonetheless, not always so constructive. So I visited Russia twice,; President Putin came to Greece in 2016. We had the Greece – Russia Year. Consequently, I hope, as a result of this visit, for this joint effort to continue. And of course, to answer your last question, all this time, despite the difficulties that our relations occasionally went through, I maintain with President Putin an honest and substantive relationship based on a sincere and honest dialogue.
JOURNALIST: Αs you have just pointed out, we have a very long history of relations – 190 years. I could hardly find any domain in which our relations are not progressing very rapidly today. Both you and President Putin have made a great effort in this regard, and indeed progress exists in all fields. Despite this, in which fields do you believe that our relations are developing successfully and where is more effort required, where do prospects exist? (and I believe this is specifically what you will discuss with the Russian President over the days to come). Surely there has been substantial progress with regard to our relations in the field of culture. As I said earlier, there was the very fruitful Greece-Russia Year. There was also progress on the level of economic and commercial cooperation. There was investment from the Russian side, especially with regard to the purchase of property, in real estate. There was a very significant increase in Russian tourists who visited your country in recent years, and I trust they had a wonderful time.
AL. TSIPRAS: Still, very significant possibilities exist. There are significant possibilities for investment of a strategic nature in Greece, especially now that Greece has overcome this economic turmoil of recent years and that very significant possibilities open up before Greece.
There are, therefore, opportunities and possibilities for investment of a strategic nature, as I said, in infrastructure, ports, in manufacturing, in the agri-food sector. Especially, I would say, in the field of energy, as our strategic choice is for Greece to become an energy and transit hub, and I believe that all these things will be the focus of our talks with President Putin during my visit to Moscow in a few days.
JOURNALIST: You recalled the cooperation between our countries in the field of energy. I know that Greece has shown interest in importing Russian natural gas through the “Turkish Stream.” What do you believe needs to be done so that the “Turkish Stream” can become the “Greek-Turkish Stream,” so that Greece is also involved in this pipeline? What are your arguments vis a vis Brussels, where I assume you must talk with your European partners? What arguments will you use vis a vis Russia in order for this project to materialise?
AL. TSIPRAS: First of all, let me tell you that energy cooperation is a very important field in Greek-Russian relations. We consider Russia to be a very important partner in the energy sector, as it possesses substantial sources of energy. And, of course, it is well-known that, since 2015, since I took over the government, Greece’s stance is a stance of multidimensional and proactive foreign policy, including a multidimensional and active policy in the energy sector as well. As such, along with other European countries, we harbour the conviction that in the context of a multidimensional energy policy, differentiating energy sources and routes, Greece and other European countries should work with the Russian Federation also for the transport of Russian natural gas to Europe through the Turkish Stream; actually, we had the vision, from the beginning, that Turkish Stream must also become the European Stream, more than just the Turkish Stream.
We have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the European Union. I believe we have strong arguments. We will persist, we have patience, and I believe that we could very well see positive results in the future.
At the same time, of course, I must tell you that Greece has advanced, to a great degree, the so-called southern corridor and the TAP pipeline which passes from Turkey to Greece and ends up in Italy. Therefore, we feel that the possibility of one more pipeline, which would run parallel to this route, is a realistic possibility. This would also fit with the consensus in the European Union in favour of differentiation and a multidimensional strategy regarding multiple energy sources and energy routes, in order to strengthen what we call energy security of the European Union.
JOURNALIST: I would like to pass now from the material sphere to the spiritual sphere, which I believe is more important than the material one. First of all, our countries may be tied by the fact that we as Russia, as well as Greece, are Orthodox countries with a very rich Christian history and a rich culture. Is it true that you really have your own relationship with the Church, as I am aware. In any case, when you were sworn in, you did not swear on the Bible, but on the Constitution. But this is a personal choice. Yet, the Church of Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church share a long historical relationship, a difficult proximity. What is your appraisal of the relationship between the two churches, the interfaith ties between Russia and Greece, what is their role in the relations between Greece and Russia?
AL. TSIPRAS As you are aware, Greece is a country which has a long tradition as regards the parallel course of great and historical moments for the Greek nation with the Christian faith, and especially the Orthodox faith, since the establishment of the Greek State up to the present. Nonetheless, it is a country which permits, based on its Constitution, all its citizens to worship and believe in any God and in any faith they wish. It is a country with freedom of religion. And at the same time, a country, of course, where the dominant religion is Orthodoxy. Despite this, there are Greek citizens of different religions. As such, I would say that Greece is a religion-neutral country, with the Christian Orthodox faith being the dominant religion, of course.
I was saying earlier that, precisely, the history of the Greek State, of the Greek nation, and the struggle of the Greek people for independence and liberty go hand in hand with important moments that were encouraged and inspired by religious faith. This culture and this tradition are very important for Greece and, regardless of the personal beliefs of each one of us -including the person who happens to be Prime Minister- must be seriously taken into consideration; they should be taken seriously into consideration not only as regards the course of events within society, but also as a significant factor which also affects diplomacy and foreign policy. This, I believe, is an element which, as you will have realised, has represented an important factor in the shaping of our policy as a country, and of my government recently. Nonetheless, I must say that state affairs belong to the remit of the state. In other words, the issues that pertain, to state relations are dealt with by the Government and those pertaining to the Church concern the Church. Therefore, all issues that pertain to the Church and to our churches are ecclesiastical issues that must exclusively be dealt with by the leaders of our Churches.
JOURNALIST: I heard that Greece, and you personally, have taken the initiative to make 2019 a year of “Language and Literature” for our countries. From what I am aware of, this initiative was heard in Moscow and you may discuss it with President Vladimir Putin. What inspired you to envision such idea and what do you expect from this commemorative year on language and literature for our countries?
AL. TSIPRAS: I believe it is a very creative idea because the profound friendship and the mutual respect which unite our people are based to a great degree on respect and appreciation for each other’s cultures. Equally very important are the affinities in religious faith that we mentioned earlier, but so are also the respect and affection we have for each other’s civilizations. It is in this way that we can, I think, create the opportunity for a substantial deepening of what we call friendship and respect between Greece and Russia.
You probably know that Greeks have long nurtured a deep appreciation for Russian culture and literature, during both its pre-revolutionary and avant-garde eras, and later periods. I am certain that the Russian people appreciate deeply the ancient Greek language, civilization and literature, and that this appreciation also extends to Greek modern literature. Therefore, I believe that the initiative to offer reciprocally Russian and Greek studies in our respective universities with an emphasis on the teaching of language and the translation of great writers represents a very positive development. For it can be a means to increase contacts between each other, and above all, for the new generations to discover Dostoevsky, Plato and Aristotle.
JOURNALIST: You said quite rightly, Prime Minister, that these cultural and human bonds could only influence positively Russia’s foreign policy, and Russian attitudes towards Greeks. My hope is that Greeks will have the same positive attitude towards Russia. Building on the deep-rooted relations and the rich history we share; what role does Russia play in Greece’s foreign policy? We must recall that from now on you are not just Prime Minister since you have also assumed responsibility of the portfolio of the Foreign Minister. What are the general priorities of Greece’s foreign policy and what role Russia plays in them?
AL. TSIPRAS: The truth of the matter is that Greece is situated in a region of the planet that has great geostrategic importance. At the meeting point of three continents, at a crucial point on the map, one would add, and as such, it plays an extremely important role. However, in recent years…
JOURNALIST: Is Greece’s geographical position at the meeting point of three continents a reason for rejoicing or grieving? Do you think it represents an advantage or disadvantage for Greece?
AL. TSIPRAS: The truth is that it is both a great blessing and a big difficulty for us. And that is because our region was always a bone of contention between great and regional powers which coveted it, in order either to conquer it, in the past, or to turn it into a sphere of their own influence, in the modern world.
That said, this may also be an aspect which differentiates the current situation from the one three and a half years ago, when I first visited the Kremlin. It is not just that Greece is now out of the crisis. It is that Greece has upgraded its geopolitical role in the region to that of a power capable of bringing about stability, security and cooperation. Greece is a country that, as everybody knows, is a member of the EU and NATO. It is a country which honours its commitments. However, it reserves its right to have relations based on mutual respect and cooperation with other powers, always within the framework of a multidimensional foreign policy, for the benefit of our own national interests and, as I said, also for promoting stability, growth and cooperation in the area.
As you can see, we are very interested indeed, first of all, as an EU member, to look at the more comprehensive developments in the domain of security over the entire continent. I happen to be one of those leaders who during European summits has stressed on many occasions the need to see security in our region as a single framework, from which Russia cannot be absent. There can be no security architecture without the inclusion of Russia. This is my point of view and I have been voicing it for the last three and a half years since I started participating in European fora as prime minister.
At the same time, we have seen that what we call regional security has been deteriorating lately. There are risks, which become more and more threatening. These are dangers which need to be overcome only through dialogue and realism.
Russia is a very important country, which has recently upgraded its role in the Mediterranean, from Libya, Syria, the Middle East to Afghanistan and therefore it is a country to be reckoned with. No one can afford not to discuss with Russia. And I firmly believe that through dialogue, debate and mutual respect we can build a unified security architecture in our region.
As for Greece, it is a country which has gone through a serious crisis. Yet it has emerged stronger. It has regained a very substantive, even leading role, I would say, in the Balkans, as a country that contributes to the stability of the region. We reached a very important agreement with our northern neighbours. An agreement on the prospect of cooperation and peace in the region. We look to solve problems that have remained unresolved for years. I am not in favour of inertia, I am an advocate of a bold, proactive and peacebuilding foreign policy. Therefore, I see this agreement as a historic step, which as far as Greece is concerned, has nothing to do with our neighbours’ choice to join or not an international organization, but more with the settlement of an outstanding historical dispute regarding the official name of our neighbour, which I believe will change from now on to enable dozens of countries across the globe, including Russia, to stop calling it with its current constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia. Instead, they will add the geographical qualifier ‘Northern Macedonia’, because Macedonia is a very important element of our own ancient cultural heritage. That’s why there must be a clear and honest distinction. So, for me, this is an important step.
Another important step which we hope to take soon is in the area of dialogue with Turkey, as well as in our steadfast effort to solve the Cyprus issue, on a just and viable basis. And a solution of the Cyprus issue on a just and viable basis implies acceptance of the fact that the island must be reunified, that there cannot be occupation forces there, or anachronistic arrangements of guarantees by third powers. And I think that on this issue Russia has always had a positive attitude and role. But, of course, a crucial issue for our foreign policy is also cooperation, the dialogue in the South East Mediterranean region, the securing of energy resources, and the safe transport of energy resources from the South East Mediterranean to Europe.
So, these are the top priorities we are presently focused on, as far as our foreign policy is concerned, and I will be very pleased for an opportunity to discuss them with President Putin in the coming days.
JOURNALIST: A few years ago, Mr Prime Minister, you said you would wear a necktie when Greece is free of debt. Given that you are still not wearing a tie, does this mean that Greece has yet to free itself from some debt? It is true that you have assumed control of the country during a difficult situation, but the situation is improving, and in this respect, of course, you have played a crucial role. First, how did you succeed up to this point? And second, what do you think needs to be done further for you to be able to wear that tie?
AL. TSIPRAS: Actually, I must tell you that I did put on a tie. I wore it when we reached a very important agreement with our European partners which made it substantially easier for us to repay these debts…
JOURNALIST: I’m trying to retrieve this footage for our own show…
AL. TSIPRAS: I wore it, but I took it off the same day, during the same speech; I explained that, to me, a suit is a work outfit. I have managed to be perhaps the only European leader who has attended the most important meetings and the most important government headquarters, from the Kremlin to the White House, from the Vatican to Downing Street and all over the world, and in Beijing and everywhere, without wearing a tie. So, one could say this is a certain achievement…
JOURNALIST: You also did not wear a tie recently in Beijing.
AL. TSIPRAS: Indeed, but it was easier in Beijing. I want to say, however, that regardless of the symbolism, what is particularly important is that our success felt like we removed a noose from our neck. I’m referring to the success regarding the Greek debt. We may have not succeeded in cancelling the debt. Yet, with the extension of maturities and the grace period we have secured for our country a comfort zone for 15 years, which investors recognize and which creates a very positive climate for investment in Greece. And investment has increased significantly. We have the best record of the last decade, with the prospect of attracting even more investment in the next few years. Because for us investment means growth and growth means jobs. And, of course, I want to emphasize this, since I am addressing the Russian people, that Greece has a long and strong tradition of friendship towards Russian and the Russian people. This friendliness between the two countries does not only boost tourism but also investment since Greece has become an attractive investment destination. So we have in place both a friendly climate as well as important economic opportunities. So we ought to take this into account, because, the truth is, during the years of the crisis very few countries offered even moral support or sympathy. And we appreciate both. Today, even those who did not stand by us see Greece as an opportunity for investment. It would be a shame if this opportunity is not seized by Russian investors too.
JOURNALIST: Investments are great of course but you chose, quite rightly, to stress tourism. As far as I know, more and more Russian tourists are coming to Greece. Greece is a popular country, there is history here, wonderful places. To put it simply, in Greece there are niches of paradise. Yet, I understand the government must do more in order to increase the flow of Russian tourists to Greece. Perhaps some additional arrangements so that Russians can visit Greece as tourists more easily.
AL. TSIPRAS: First of all, I believe that the flow of Russian tourists to Greece has already increased. Nonetheless, possibilities exist, especially in what we call theme tourism, religious tourism, where we could try to encourage Russian citizens to visit Greece. And I believe that we are already moving in this direction, and we will move with even swifter steps in the near future. It must be understood, and this is the message that I wish to convey to the Russian citizens who are watching us, that Greece is something more than just a tourist destination. Greece is not just about the beauty of nature, which truly is something unique, as witnessed by those who have visited, especially the Greek islands. But it is also its history, its culture, its philosophy, its flavours. And I believe, precisely because this history and culture have a tradition that goes back centuries, a parallel course with that of the Russian people, it is something unique for one to visit Greece, to prefer it for example over some other country which may also be very beautiful. I am aware that the natural beauty is the same on the Turkish coast, because we are located in the same region. But what one gets by visiting Greece is something unique, unrivaled.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I would like to broach one of your hobbies, which is shared by millions of Russians, and this is football. I know that this is your favourite sport, that you yourself played football, and that you generally have the walk of a footballer. You had the idea of submitting a joint bid with Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia for the 2030 World Cup. Now we in Russia, of course, after the World Cup, closely follow who will be next, who will follow… We are keen. I understand you intend to declare the World Cup open as Prime Minister in 2030. What are your plans with regard to this bid?
AL. TSIPRAS: First of all, let me congratulate Russia for successfully organising the World Cup this past summer. It truly was an extraordinary event, and also very high in quality, I would say, because I watched the majority of the matches. Russia’s national football team was very exciting to watch and had a very good tournament, with your fantastic goalkeeper who also saved a penalty, but you were unlucky in the last match. Nonetheless, I would like to say that sports, and especially football, unite nations. It must unite nations. It is the sport of the poor, that’s what they say. The entire planet watches football. I therefore, took the initiative and proposed to my partners…
JOURNALIST: Judging from how much footballers are paid, not so poor.
AL. TSIPRAS: It is the sport that poor people love, and the rich take advantage of it. But I was telling you, precisely because I believe that sports can unite, that we had an idea. I proposed it to friends, the Prime Ministers and Presidents of the three Balkan countries with which we cooperate very closely – Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania – our idea of a joint candidature.
By the way, try to picture this: For very many years, we have been accustomed to the Balkans being the powder keg of our region. World War I began in the Balkans. The Balkans were a focal point during World War II. Immediately after, there was nationalism, the war in Yugoslavia, conflicts, hate. This continues even today. Now the message we send, from four Balkan countries, is that we leave behind this period of strife and we join forces for a good purpose, to be awarded a great sporting event. This message is invaluable, regardless of whether we succeed or not. If we have your support as well, we may succeed.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I know that in the past you rode a motorbike as a means of transportation, now it’s a car. Which do you hold more dear, the motorbike of your youth or the Prime Minister’s car?
AL. TSIPRAS: Surely motorbikes. You know, driving safely is one thing, but speeding on a motorbike gives you a great sense of freedom. It is a feeling that cannot be replaced, which I have unfortunately missed these past few years.
JOURNALIST: Moving on. Prime Minister, I remember our previous meeting. Since our program is entitled “Formula of Power,” I had asked you what type of power you prefer. You had just taken over and you had responded, in all fairness, that you had not tried it out yet. Nonetheless, being familiar with your CV, I believe that you gave your first order when you served in the Navy. As far as I know, you were in the Navy, is that not so?
AL. TSIPRAS: I had the chance and, at the same time, the misfortune, of becoming Prime Minister during a historic and difficult period. Perhaps the most historic and most difficult period, at the same time, of the modern post-Junta democracy of Greece. As such, I would say this taste is mixed, it’s bitter-sweet. Sweet of course, because whenever you are in a position of making historic decisions and having the trust of your citizens, the love of your citizens, of your people, this is of course very important. I feel that I have experienced the most riveting moments compared to those experienced by all my predecessors, excluding perhaps the moments of the period right after the restoration of democracy. At the same time, though, bitter as well, in the sense that the difficulties were humongous, and the decisions very difficult. The implementation of those decisions was also very difficult. But today Greece has exited the MOUs, has exited the economic crisis, it looks towards the future with more optimism; we have 300,000 less unemployed. Moments were very difficult, and the effort we made to exit the crisis very difficult, with difficult decisions.
Consequently, what is important, I believe, is that in the end, the balance is positive and that one has a clear conscience knowing that one made difficult decisions for the benefit of the majority of the people. I can claim, honestly, that this is how I felt, this is my experience and, therefore, I can say it was well worth the effort.
JOURNALIST: You know, Prime Minister, the beautiful ancient capital of Athens, today, just days before Christmas and New Year’s, is decorated with bright lights, and soon Greeks and Catholics will celebrate Christmas, and literally only a few days are left before the New Year. May I ask you, Prime Minister, to your wishes to the Russian people for the New Year, whatever you feel like wishing to them.
AL. TSIPRAS: I wish for happiness, prosperity, peace and more optimism for the Russian people for 2019. For 2019 to be a year of prosperity and progress for the Russian people as well as for all peoples.