MOSCOW, July 22. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held talks over the phone, focusing on bilateral cooperation and on Turkey’s decision to change the status of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Kremlin said on Wednesday adding that the phone call was requested by Athens.
"[Putin and Mitsotakis] considered in detail the future advancement of Russian-Greek cooperation in a variety of fields. [They] noted the need to accelerate the work of the joint commission on economic, industrial, scientific and technical cooperation, placing an emphasis on extension of legal groundwork for a bilateral relationship," the statement says.
Apart from that, they touched upon the reciprocal Year of History, scheduled for 2021, including the celebrations in Greece marking the 200th anniversary of its War for Independence.
Apart from that, Putin and Mitsotakis "focused on the change of the status of Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul."
"[They] emphasized the unmatched cultural, historic and religious significance of that unique World Heritage Site and noted the importance of preserving it as universal heritage and a symbol of peace and cohesion," the press service said.
According to the Kremlin, the talks touched upon "some regional issues, including settlement in Libya and the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean."
On July 10, the Turkish Council of State invalidated Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s 1934 decree that had bestowed Hagia Sophia with its museum status. Later in the day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an order declaring Hagia Sophia open for Muslim worship. Local Orthodox Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, voiced their regret over the decision, along with UNESCO.
Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine-era architectural monument. The cathedral was constructed between 532 and 537 AD by a decree from then Emperor Justinian I of Byzantium. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the cathedral was converted into a mosque. In 1935, following the decree of the Turkish government signed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, the building was transformed into a museum. White plaster covering Christian mosaics and murals were removed. In 1985, the building was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.