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Greece defence minister reassures NATO over Russia ties
[BRUSSELS] Greece's new government remains committed to its NATO role despite close ties with Russia that have worried its allies, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told AFP on Wednesday.
Speaking after his first meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and on the eve of a gathering of the alliance's defence ministers, Mr Kammenos played down concerns that Athens could go soft on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
"We spoke a lot about relations between the alliance and Greece; I assured them that relations will continue as before," Mr Kammenos said in an interview at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
"We will continue our cooperation on a political level and also on a military level." A NATO official said Mr Stoltenberg had "thanked Greece for its continued commitment to the Alliance."
"He stressed that Greece has contributed substantially to NATO for over six decades and said he counts on the steadfast commitment of Greece to NATO."
Victory for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's Syriza party in January 25 elections rang alarm bells in western capitals because of its close ties with to Moscow.
Syriza had previously advocated withdrawing from the 28-nation NATO and Mr Tsipras visited Moscow to meet Russian officials in May 2014, just two months after Russia annexed Crimea.
There were fresh concerns when Mr Tsipras last week protested against an EU statement threatening further sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.
Asked about such fears, Mr Kammenos replied: "We have seen these reports in recent days all around the world but Greece will continue to be a member of Europe and NATO, that's for sure." But he insisted that Greece would maintain its ties with Russia too.
"Of course Greece has political relations with Russia. These relations are not hidden, these are open relations and we will continue to have those relations," he said.
"The majority of Greek agricultural production is exported to Russia and now with the sanctions that has really affected farmers," he said.
"Also we have (Russian) military equipment, we discussed that with the secretary general. We will continue to source spare parts so that we are able to keep this equipment, which will remain within NATO."