Alexis Tsipras Vladimir Putin .jpg
Photograph: EPA/ALEXANDROS VLACHOS

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras upheld his country's strengthening relationship with Russia as a strategic partnership on Friday as Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Athens.

"I would like to once again emphasize that strengthening our connections with Russia is our strategic choice," Tsipras told Putin, according to a Kremlin transcript.

"We have historical, close religious and spiritual bonds and we have the opportunity to further build our economic partnership as well as increase stability in the region and the world as a whole," Tsipras continued.

Putin noted at a meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos that the number of Russian tourists in Greece in March this year increased more than 520 percent since the same period last year, a sign of growing ties between the countries.

"It is possible to do much more, not only in tourism," Putin said, according to a transcript posted on the Kremlin's website.

Putin arrived in Athens on Friday for a two-day visit to Greece with trade, energy, migration and Moscow's relations with NATO on the agenda.

Last year, Putin and Tsipras signed a deal on the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline, but tensions between Moscow and Ankara sidelined the project.

Moscow's relations with Turkey are strained over the civil war in Syria, where they back opposing sides, and with NATO - of which both Greece and Turkey are members - over various issues, mainly the alliance's expansion into former Soviet states.

Ahead of Friday's visit, Putin said he would love to revive the pipeline plan. In a letter published online by the Athens daily Ekathimerini, he also said Russia is interested in buying Greece's railway operator Trainose and the Thessaloniki port.

On Saturday, Putin is due to visit Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mountain, on a peninsula in the Aegean, which is home to numerous monasteries and sacred sites for Orthodox Christians.

Putin is scheduled to visit Saint Panteleimon Monastery and the mostly Russian monks who have resided there for a full millennium this year.

At the monastery he is expected to be joined by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who arrived in Thessaloniki earlier Friday.

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