Vladimir Putin visits Greece

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Greece Thursday for a two-day working trip expected to include talks on a planned oil pipeline, Cyprus and a visit to the 1,000-year-old autonomous monastic community of Mount Athos Putin and Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis made a joint appearance at a heavily-guarded seaside hotel in Porto Carras - a luxury resort east of this northern port city - ahead of talks late Thursday. Putin said Greece is a serious partner and they can have Russian natural gas through Greece in western Europe and they have to push the petroleum pipeline. Putin arrived in Greece from Berlin, where he discussed with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder an agreement on a Baltic Sea gas pipeline that would increase Russian gas sales to Europe and Germany. That 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) pipeline would be commissioned in 2010. Trade between Greece and Russia has also been growing steadily, reaching Ђ1.15 billion (US$1.429 billion) in 2004. It was Ђ644.23 million (US$800 million) in the first six months of 2005.

Putin said he would also discuss the divided island of Cyprus, the Balkans and relations between Russia and the European Union with Caramanlis. The main reason for Putin's trip appeared to be his expected visit to Mount Athos, like Porto Carras located on a peninsula east of Thessaloniki.

Putin was expected to travel to Mount Athos on Friday before leaving for Moscow. He had been due to visit the all-male sanctuary last year, but the trip was canceled following the Sept. 1-3 Beslan school siege in southern Russia, in which 331 people were killed, many of them children, AP reports.

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