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Putin to EU: Deals With Russia Will Help Greece Pay Its Debts

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (left) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow in April.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (left) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow in April.

President Vladimir Putin has touted Russia's renewed trade relationship with Greece, saying a pipeline deal they sealed that day would help Greece pay its heavy debts.

Putin contrasted Russia's willngness to help Greece create jobs and investment with the punitive approach of the European Union, which has been demanding that Greece cut back on spending and raise taxes to get more loans despite the likelihood those measures would throw the embattled Mediiterranean country deeper into recession.

"If the EU wants Greece to pay its debts it should be interested in growing the Greek economy...helping it pay its debts," said Putin at a meeting with top executives of global news agencies in St. Petersburg.

"The EU should be applauding us. What's wrong with creating jobs in Greece?"

Putin earlier had talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a meeting that touched on various business deals between the two countries but did not broach the subject of providing financial assistance to the cash-strapped country.

The meeting, coming after the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) scheduled an emergency summit for June 22 to demand more concessions from Greece, which faces default on its IMF obligations on June 30, had sparked speculation that Greece might be applying for a loan from Russia.

While the Kremlin said it was open to any request for loans, it said none came out of the meeting.

"The most important things for us are investment projects and trade with Greece," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said in an interview on RT television, adding that "if financial support is needed, we will consider this question."

The most concrete outcome of Tsipras's trip to visit Putin at the St. Petersburg economic forum was a deal to build an extension of a planned gas pipeline that would carry Russian gas to Europe through Turkey.

Russia promised Greece hundreds of millions of dollars in transit payments yearly if it agreed to build the pipeline extension. Construction is expected to start next year and be completed in 2019.

Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said Russia and Greece would be equal partners in the project, with Russia's half owned by the state bank VEB. Thus the project would yield government revenue for Greece to repay its debts.

Tsipras hailed "a new era of Greek-Russian relations" and seemed to relish distancing himself from the rest of the EU with its harsh economic sanctions against Russia imposed after the annexation of Crimea last year.

Greece strives to be a "bridge of cooperation" with "traditional friends like Russia," he said. "As you all know, we are now in the middle of a great storm. But we are a seafaring nation that knows how to navigate through storms.

It was not clear whether the pipeline deal violates the sanctions embargo, which generally bars new business but permits the continuation of previous business relationships with Russia.

With reporting by AP and TASS
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