Russia, Greece agree to build gas pipeline
Russia and Greece agreed Friday to sign a preliminary agreement to build a gas pipeline, with the two countries coming together amid a raging debt crisis in Athens and new Western actions against Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin was set to meet Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras later Friday on the sidelines of an investment forum overshadowed by Russia's economic crisis and standoff with the West.
Tsipras is among the few guests of honour at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, and the two leaders are scheduled to discuss the debt crisis in Greece, which could default on looming loan payments and possibly leave the eurozone.
In the run-up to the forum, Putin's aides refused to say whether Russia would consider bailing out Greece, which has publicly criticised Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
In a sign of increased cooperation between the two countries, meanwhile, Russia and Greece earlier Friday signed a preliminary deal to set up a joint venture building a pipeline through Greece.
"This is the start of a large investment project in Greece that is beneficial to the country's economy," Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said at the signing ceremony.
He estimated the cost of building the Greek link at around two billion euros, adding that the total volume of gas pumped will be 47 billion cubic metres.
The two countries will jointly own the venture, ministry spokeswoman Olga Golant told AFP.
Russia had previously proposed footing the bill for building a Greek pipeline extension of the Russia-Turkish TurkStream project, which aims to deliver gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine.
Moscow announced the creation of the TurkStream programme last year after it cancelled its South Stream gas pipeline to southeastern Europe -- which was already under construction -- as relations with the European Union reached a nadir over Russia's role in Ukraine.
Instead Moscow announced the pipeline to Turkey, which should be operational in December 2016, and told European nations they would need to build their own links to access the gas.
Russia's economic forum got off to a rocky start Thursday amid a new spike in tensions with the West, with Moscow seeing its state assets in France and Belgium frozen in a row over compensation for shareholders of defunct oil giant Yukos.
Russian officials reacted by saying Moscow was preparing a "judicial response" to measure, which came amid increasing tensions between the West and Russia.
EU member states agreed this week to extend damaging economic sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine by another six months to the end of January 2016, officials said. Moscow retorted by saying it would similarly prolong its boycott of certain Western products.
© 2015 AFP