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On eve of Greece visit, Putin says problems with EU can be solved

ATHENS (Reuters) - Russia and the European Union need to build a ‘an equal and fair dialogue’ as partners to overcome their differences, President Vladimir Putin said in an article published in a Greek newspaper on Thursday on an eve of a visit to the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with French businessmen at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Western financial sanctions were imposed on Moscow in 2014 over its role in the Ukraine conflict, where it annexed Crimea. Russia has imposed counter sanctions against West, including a ban on agricultural produce.

Putin will be in Athens on Friday, and also visit Greece’s monastic community at Mount Athos in northern Greece on Saturday.

Greece, along with Cyprus, are among EU member states with close relations to Moscow. They are lukewarm towards sanctions on Russia but comply.

“Russia’s starting point is the need to build an equal and fair dialogue of partners with the European Union on a wide range of issues, - from simplifying visa processes to building energy alliances,” he wrote in Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper.

While the EU did not appear to feel the same way, Putin said, ‘there is no problem which cannot be solved’.

“To return to this multi-faceted relationship of partners we must reject the flawed logic that one party has the upper hand. Each side must seriously take into account the views and the concerns of the other,” he wrote.

Singling out energy and transport, Putin said Moscow wanted to deepen its cooperation with Greece.

Russia has been the main gas supplier for Greece and Putin said his country has always counted on its deep ties with Athens to push ahead with its plans to boost its gas supplies Europe.

Having tried and so far failed to bolster pipeline links with the continent through Bulgaria and Turkey, Russia’s Gazprom is running out of options to secure its strategic entry point into southern Europe, and with it any chance of cutting Ukraine out of the picture this decade.

The company announced in March new plans with Greece’s state natural gas utility DEP and Italian utility Edison to supply natural gas along the seabed of the Black Sea into Greece and Italy, from where it could be sold in Europe.

“The issue of our energy resources being carried through southern corridors to the countries of the European Union is still on the agenda,” Putin said.

He said that Russia could also help Greece upgrade its transport infrastructure and made a reference to Russian Railways (RZD) [IPO-RZHD.L] which is interested in buying the country’s railway operator TRAINOSE and its second biggest port in Thessaloniki.

RZD and two other suitors submitted an initial interest for TRAINOSE last month and the deadline for the binding bids ends on June 22.

RZD is also one of eight companies shortlisted for the acquisition of a 67 percent stake in the Thessaloniki Port where final bids are expected at the end of September.

Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Michele Kambas; Editing by Toby Chopra