Days after Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wrote him a letter asking for Russia to reduce prices paid for Russian gas, Russian President Vladimir Putin took a shot at Russian entrepreneurs for investing in Greece, which he described as “a problematic country.”
“Of course we are annoyed,” the Athens Macedonian News Agency quoted a senior government official as saying. “That’s the last thing we need.”
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou stressed that Greece “is a safe country for investments.” “There is investment interest in Greece and as we know investments can’t be manipulated.”
The reaction followed comments by Putin during a meeting with regional officials in Rostov, the birthplace of Greek-Russian entrepreneur Ivan Savvidis, who bought an 82 percent stake in the SEKAP tobacco firm in Xanthi last February, assumed the management of Thessaloniki’s Makedonia Pallas Hotel, and last summer bought Greek football team PAOK.
Putin’s comments were seen as a swipe at Savvidis and other Russian entrepreneurs investing abroad. “Greece is a good country, spiritually close to us, but we are well aware of its economic problems,” Putin said. “If an investor chooses such a country, which is obviously problematic, for his investments and favors it, for instance, over the region of Rostov, this raises a question: Why? And what is lacking here?”
In June the Russian energy giant Gazprom pulled out of making a bid at the last moment for the Greek gas company DEPA, leaving the Greek government in the lurch and with a billion-dollar hole in its privatization program.
The surprise pull-out came even though Samaras had personally met with Gazprom’s Chief Executive Alexey Miller which had led Greek authorities to believe the deal was all but signed, sealed and delivered Gazprom said it was worried about DEPA’s finances but European Union competition issues were believed to have been a concern along with American fears Russia was gaining too big an energy foothold in Europe.
Samaras has aggressively been pushing Greece as a good place for foreign investments, including during trips to the United States and China. He said bringing in foreign investors is key to getting out from under the country’s crushing economic crisis instead of relying only on austerity as demanded by its international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).