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Russia: Greek Minister Gets Red Carpet In Moscow

  • John Helmer

Moscow, 3 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Greece's Defense Minister, Apostolos Tsohatzopoulos, got the Russian 'Red-Carpet' treatment this week in Moscow for several reasons, Greek and Russian officials tell RFE/RL. "The meeting with President (Boris) Yeltsin was unusual," one source noted, and, "more unusual than what was actually said."

Tsohatzopoulos had not initially been expecting to go to the Kremlin to meet the Russian president, although Greece's government had officially requested the meeting last week. No answer had been received from the Kremlin until early Monday, setting the rendezvous for 1300 Tuesday afternoon. Tsohatzopoulos had to hastily arrange a charter jet to fly him to Moscow in time.

A source who attended the 20-minute meeting said Yeltsin was "surprisingly strong", and followed closely what was said. After noting Russia's particularly friendly relations with Greece, Yeltsin and Tsohatzopoulos touched on their shared views of developments in the Balkans, Middle East, and Cyprus. Yeltsin also recommended to Tsohatzopoulos that Greece buy Russian-made arms.

The Yeltsin meeting was arranged at the last minute after bids from Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov and the Russian military sales organization, Rosvooruzheniye.

Yeltsin used brief television footage of his meeting with Tsohatzopoulos, and also with Namibia's President, Sam Nujoma, to try to rebut the growing impression in the Russian media that he is seriously ailing.

Yeltsin did not refer specifically to the weapons systems and military technologies which Russia wants to sell to Greece. Wednesday morning, Tsohatzopoulos met Russia's Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev. Officials present said their conversation covered general areas of military cooperation, technical exchanges, and procurement, without getting down to specific arms purchases. Tsohatzopoulos said that working groups will be considering a variety of procurement proposals, including military electronics.

A Greek military source tells RFE/RL the two most likely items of Russian hardware that will be discussed and tested in the coming months are air-defense missiles (S-300 missiles); and models of hovercraft, which Russia developed in the 1980s to transport airmobile troops and vehicles on sea and island terrain.

Returning to Greece, Tsohatzopoulos said his country's purchase of Russian air-defense missiles remains "a theoretical scenario." But, he did note that Cyprus' Greek government has purchased the Russian missiles. Responding to questions about Turkey suggesting it will not allow the deployment of the missiles on the divided island, Tsohatzopoulos said the Russian government "has made it clear that it guarantees the transportation and installation of the system."

Greek officials said there was no mention during the minister's talks of Russia's request for extradition from Greece of Andrei Kozlyenok. Arrested by Greek police in January, he is accused of defrauding the Russian treasury of more than 170-million dollars in proceeds from sales of state diamonds.

Kozlyenok said from his Greek prison last week that extradition should be denied because his life is in danger, if he is returned to Moscow. Kozlyenok also suggested that his real offense is a political one. He told a Russian interviewer that the proceeds of the diamond transactions were spent on the publication of President Yeltsin's memoirs and re-election campaign.

Russian influence in Cyprus is strong, with Russians controlling several banks and Russian-language newspapers. The island is viewed as Russia's strongest business center in Europe, outside Moscow.