Putin wraps up Greek trip with Russian monastery visit

Vladimir Putin wraps up a two-day trip to Greece by visiting the monastic community of Mount Athos

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday wraps up a two-day trip to Greece by visiting the monastic community of Mount Athos, one of Orthodox Christianity’s holiest sites.

Putin, who has often talked about his strong Orthodox faith, will join celebrations for the 1,000th anniversary of the Russian presence at the ancient, all-male monastic community of Mount Athos.

Accompanied by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin will visit the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon on the west coast of the Halkidiki peninsula.

Russia and Greece are both largely Orthodox Christian countries and share close religious ties.

Mount Athos is an enclave of 20 monasteries – including one apiece for Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria – that has enjoyed autonomy since Byzantine times.

Putin will fly to Thessaloniki and will reach the remote peninsula by boat, accompanied by Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.

A former Communist, Kotzias clashed with EU peers last year over the Ukraine crisis, arguing that the bloc should avoid “spasmodic” moves against Russia.

On Friday, Putin signed several economic deals with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens during a visit aimed at reinforcing a relationship with one of his few friends in the EU at a time of tension with the West.

The visit, Putin’s first to the EU since December, comes at a low ebb in relations between Russia and Europe over the conflict in Ukraine that broke out in 2014, with sanctions still in force against Moscow.

It also comes as Athens desperately seeks to emerge from recession, with Greek officials saying increased trade with Russia could play a part in recovery efforts.

EU leaders will next month discuss whether to renew sanctions on Russia’s banking, defense and energy sectors that expire in July.

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