Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with Greek leaders in Athens as he makes a first visit to the European Union this year shortly before the bloc is due to weigh whether to extend sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.
Putin met with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras immediately after arriving in Athens May 27 for the start of a two-day visit.
The Russian leader suggested he is looking for investment opportunities to help Greece's flagging economy.
"These are difficult times for everyone — in terms of the economy and international security," Putin said. "We must examine these problems and look for a solution. It is not a coincidence that an opportunity for this has arisen in Greece — a country with which we have deep and historic ties."
Tsipras said, "This is a special moment for Greece, where uncertainty stops."
Putin is leading a delegation that includes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and top executives from state oil and gas companies.
Putin's visit -- his first to the EU since December -- comes as the bloc's leaders are to discuss next month whether to renew sanctions on Russia's banking, defense, and energy sectors that expire in July.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said on May 27 that the leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) economic powers have agreed that sanctions imposed against Russia over its actions in Ukraine must be extended next month.
“The G-7 has agreed on the vital importance of sanctions rollover in June,” Cameron said following a two-day G-7 summit in Japan. “Ukraine is the victim of Russian-backed aggression. We must never forget that fact.”
Western financial sanctions were imposed on Moscow in 2014 over its role in the Ukraine conflict, including its seizure of Crimea.
Russia has imposed counter-sanctions against West, including a ban on agricultural produce.
Russia said on May 27 it plans to extend its embargo on Western food products by a year and a half. The extension of the embargo, which was due to expire in three months, appears intended to ratchet up pressure on Brussels.
In Athens, the Russian leader took a hard line regarding Western criticism over Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Tsipras, he said, "As far as Crimea is concerned, we consider this question is closed forever."
"Russia will not conduct any discussions with anyone on this subject," he added.
Later on May 27, Putin and Tsipras were to unveil a famous icon by Andrei Rublev, The Ascension, which is on loan from Russia's Tretyakov Gallery to Greece's Byzantine and Christian Museum.
On May 28, Putin is to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the Russian presence at the ancient monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece, one of Orthodox Christianity's holiest sites.
He will be accompanied by the head of Russia's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who arrived in northern Greece on May 27.
Greece along with Cyprus are among EU member states with close relations to Moscow. They are lukewarm toward sanctions on Russia but comply.
Moscow is one of Athen's main trading partners, but the Russian economy has been hit by the EU sanctions and drop in commodity prices.
Greece is keen to reverse a slump in tourist arrivals from Russia last year.
Some 2,500 police are providing security for Putin's visit in Athens, and much of the city center is blocked to motorists and public transport.
With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, AFP, and AP