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Interfax.com  |  Interviews  |  Koumanakou: Sanctions not an end in itself, EU counts on diplomatic solution



Interviews


May 21, 2014

Koumanakou: Sanctions not an end in itself, EU counts on diplomatic solution


Greek Ambassador to Russia Danai-Magdalini Koumanakou has given an interview with Interfax in which she speaks about Russian-Greek interaction following the aggravation of relations between the European Union and Russia, her perception of EU sanctions against Russia and the upcoming high tourist season.

Question: The Crimean situation has aggravated Russian-EU relationships. How serious was its impact on Russian-Greek relations? Did one have to stop any significant joint projects?

Answer: No. Things are proceeding normally. We are keeping consultations that have been scheduled. We of course are proceeding with preparations to 2016 which is going to be a Year of the Russian Federation to Greece and of Greece to the Russian Federation, it is going to be a cross year. So people are coming and going, we are in very close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of course and the Ministry of Culture. Slowly but stably we are making the necessary connections to be able to push with programming of manifestations and events that we will agree.

Q.: Are there any specific plans for this cross year?

A.: There are many. When those are finalized - hopefully this year - I believe we will make a joint announcement for that. Its a wonderful project, and we are very happy to have agreed and we hope a lot will be done given this opportunity.

Q.: Will there be something about ancient Greece culture?

A.: Yes, of course there are going to be exhibitions and various cultural events, but not only. In our scope remains a possibility to get to know regions of Russia and regions of Greece better, make the necessary connections and help people work jointly in presenting let say particular interests in tourism, in economy, in commerce, in production and in culture of course. We believe its a good opportunity to get to know each other even better and enhance modern connections considering history, we are very close to known each other, but there is always an additional need for modern achievements to be known from each other. So 2016 is a wonderful opportunity for this.

Q.: Are you going to bring some original pieces of ancient art?

A.: I believe so. I very much believe so.

Q.: Greece is one of the most popular destinations for Russian tourists. Should Russians be afraid of difficulties in acquiring Schengen visas at Greek consulates over EU sanctions against Russian ahead of the high tourist season?

A.: I believe its becoming more and more clear that these policy and regime concerning Russian citizens have not been changed at all and that our demarche remains inclusive and liberal and it has always been in as much as we believe that Greece in particular presents a very interesting tourist package for Russian tourists. Services that we provide for the Schengen visa are very reliable and fast. We are very happy to confirm that this year also we remained very popular. So far figures show this year that we keep the last years numbers with a plus and we hope that this positive trend will continue. At the end of the season we will show better results than last year despite some difficulties one may attribute to the let say slight weakening of the ruble vis-à-vis euro. But even to that, I believe that my compatriots dealing with tourism did the necessary to low the prices enough to remain in strong competition with other countries in the area.

What we did over those last couple of months is to push for opening of three more spots where Russian citizens can get visa services, in Omsk, in Perm and in Saratov, which are important cities within their regions, and we hope that there is going to be a couple more over the next few weeks. Those three will be opened almost immediately.

Also we are monitoring every case that we learn has a particular let say humanitarian interest - for instance a tourist has had an accident anywhere in Greece - to see how insurance is performing, to make sure to provide necessary assistance to the family in order to go to Greece and coordinate with the Russian consulate or other part and in generally keep a close eye to how the situations are performing. So far we are very pleased with people we cooperate and we have a positive feeling that the season is going to be very fulfilling both for Russians visiting my country and for us servicing this purpose here in the Russian Federation.

Q.: Was there any difference in the quantity of Russian tourists going to Greece in first week of May, very popular days for vacations, comparing to the previous year?

A.: Precisely. As I said the trend is positive. We have kept the same level as last year and we had something like 5% to 7% plus.

Q.: It was reported shortly after the Crimean referendum and its entry to Russia that Crimeans would be able to get Schengen visas only at European consulates in Kyiv. How will Greece issue visas to Crimeans, many of whom already have Russian documents, including travel passports?

A.: Obviously, we are members of the European Union decisions are taken at the level of the 28. There is a very precise political framework that has been designed by the summit of the European Union: these are the Ukrainian crisis and Crimea in particular. Greece being a member of the European Union will follow common decisions.

Q.: So Crimeans have to go to Kyiv?

A.: This is the position of the European Union. So far let me also underline there are meetings on level of working groups and ministerial that are taking place almost every week. There is a profound reflection on how things are developing and on how the should be handled. The situation is constantly evolving. We will wait and see how this will remain after May 25, that is the next week, and consequently.

Q.: Could the situation be changed?

A.: If it is an evolving situation on the ground, one may expect that there will be changes in the future.

Q.: With Russian documents, which most part of Crimeans already have, would there be problems with issuing visas in Kyiv for them?

A.: I believe that is this question that needs to be answered by my colleagues in Kyiv but on the basis of decision that have been taken, yes, those passports need to be serviced by the Kyiv embassy.

Q.: The EU has spoken about the so-called third package of sanctions against Russia that provides for measures of economic influence. Does Greece consider the prospects of introducing economic sanctions against Russia realistic? What is Athens assessment of the consequences of such measures to the Greek economy?

A.: I believe that especially during this period we are into let say more conducive, more pertinent not to speak about sanctions per se, but try to understand why sanctions were actually initiated in the first place and if there is room still today for pushing to the negotiated solutions.

I can understand negative feelings and reactions concerning sanctions. The EU has explained that sections is not a goal but a means, a pressure to try to make things being understood on how the situation in Ukraine is actually detrimental to relations of the European Union with Russia. I believe that the EU and member countries individually have all appealed to Russia and Ukraine for a diplomatic solution. Because time is running, I believe we should concentrate and try to make the best out of what is on the table rights now. I believe that the roadmap proposed, initiated by the OSCE should be first in our discussions and considerations.

I understand the meaning of other question touching upon the third package, or third level, of sanctions, honestly, I believe this should not be within the scope right now but try to see that within very little time given to us we can perform diplomatically and effectively.

Q.: The European Commission is critical over the South Stream project and has recently called to halt it. Do you agree with some experts words that by countering the South Stream project Brussels takes southern Europe hostage to its policy in Ukraine?

A.: No, I certainly do not perceive the situation in such a scheme. The first and foremost let me remind that energy issues are thoroughly discussed between Russia and EU member states and there is a working group on South Stream, in particular. And this working group has been meeting - I would call it almost regularly - not one meeting has been missed. Now if there are no tangible results announced yet, this doesnt mean that there is no discussion and that things are not moving first of all in getting the situation explained between the key contributors. I believe that the fact that we all agreed to keep up such a scheme and work with each other is a very positive sign. It doesnt necessarily mean that every meeting should bring out results. We are meeting regularly, I believe this is a very good sign.

Q.: Some U.S. companies have refused to attend the St. Petersburg Economic Forum this year explaining their refusal by Russias position on the Ukrainian crisis. European businessmen have started to follow their example. Will Greece and Greek companies attend the St. Petersburg Economic Forum? Will Greek officials attend the forum?

A.: Yes, I will be in St. Petersburg myself. I am extremely interested how the forum will revolve around its main idea and things. In particular, Im extremely interested to hear what President Putin will say in his speech especially after returning from China. This year we will not have companies from Greece, but this doesnt mean that interest for the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg is not the highest. I understand there is a bit of discussion whether leading economic personalities will be attending, I think that the most important is to check the list of companies participating, and this is impressive. Whether these companies are represented at the highest level or not, I believe it is a question but not the principle question. Let me tell that all my colleagues from the EU countries will be in St. Petersburg as of tomorrow, and not only.

Q.: It is rumored that allegedly some officials in some Western countries talk businessmen out of dealing with Russians and advise against attending events at which Russians from the sanctions lists may be present. As far as Greece is concerned, are the rumors true?

A.: Those persons on the sanctions list let say were refused entrance in the EU countries and area. Coming into contact with them is of, let say, a certain interest but it depends whereas you speak about a formal meeting or an informal meeting and certain details that honestly I dont believe are of much interest to readers of how this functioning. Mainly pertains to those people being able to travel to EU countries.



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