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Russia and Greece say spat over diplomats expulsions is over

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Maxim Shemetov, Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia and Greece have overcome a rift over the expulsions of diplomats that strained their traditionally friendly ties, the countries’ leaders said Friday.

Greece in July expelled two Russian diplomats amid allegations they helped fund protests against a deal between Greece and its northern neighbor Macedonia intended to pave the way for Macedonia to join NATO.

Russia angrily rejected the claim and responded in kind, expelling two Greek diplomats in August.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after Friday’s talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the Kremlin that Russia still considers the Greek action unfounded.

“I can hardly imagine that any reasonable person in Greece or in Russia could think that Russia was involved in any machinations or plots against Greece, the Russian leader said. “It’s sheer nonsense.”

Putin noted that any such tensions could be solved without “theatrical gestures,” but added “that page has been turned.”

Tsipras also said Greece considers the dispute closed and emphasized the importance of his country’s close ties with Russia. “This issue has been solved, and I believe that we should look forward,” he said.

Tsipras noted that Greece has underlined the importance of constructive relations with Russia in dialogue with its European Union and NATO partners amid tensions between Russia and the West.

“Greece must fulfill its obligations as a member of the EU and NATO, but it believes that European security architecture can’t exclude Russia,” he said. “That is the position I have taken at all international forums.”

The two leaders said they discussed the prospect of shipments of Russian natural gas to southern Europe via Greece.

Last month, Russia and Turkey announced the completion of the offshore part of TurkStream pipeline deep in the Black Sea that would supply Russian gas to Turkey.

Putin said Friday that the new pipeline could potentially be extended to ship Russian gas to Greece and other countries in southern Europe.

“I believe it’s quite realistic,” he said.

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