Putin Says Gas to Greece Will Double

ReutersKaramanlis, center, visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Tuesday.
President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Greece wanted to double imports of Russian gas, and he praised progress in a project to send Russian oil from Bulgaria to Greece.

"Greece is interested in signing new contracts after 2016 that will last up to 2040 with volumes rising almost twofold," Putin said at a news conference with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

"In order to increase volumes, there is a need for additional transport capacities," he said, referring to a new gas link under the Black Sea called South Stream.

Karamanlis said he supported the project but that it still needed considerable work.

"People on both sides are working, and we are hoping that an intergovernmental agreement will be signed in the near future," he said.

Putin and Karamanlis spoke after nearly three hours of negotiations over oil and gas, military cooperation and the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

Both leaders praised their countries' efforts to ensure energy security for Europe.

South Stream is seen as a direct challenge to the Nabucco pipeline, a $6.2 billion project that is to carry Caspian gas via Turkey and the Balkans as Europe seeks to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.

Last month, Putin and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi blessed the setting up of a joint venture to carry out a feasibility study into the South Stream pipeline, which will run from Novorossiisk under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

Putin and Karamanlis also applauded a deal signed Tuesday by Greece, Russia and Bulgaria to establish a company, Burgas-Alexandroupolis, to build and manage a trans-Balkan pipeline that will send Russian oil from Bulgaria to Greece.

Putin called the agreement a "penultimate step on the way to the start of practical realization of this very important project."

In March, Russia and Greece agreed to construct the 280-kilometer, $1.35 billion Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, designed to bypass the congested Bosporus strait.

Greece and Russia might also expand cooperation in the military sphere, including joint developments on Greek territory, Putin said. "All of this is in the sphere of our attention," he said, without elaborating.

Karamanlis said Greece was looking to buy 400 infantry combat vehicles from Russia.

The meeting comes amid new strains between Moscow and NATO countries after Russia suspended participation last week in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.

Putin said Russia was a "very reliable partner," adding that it would not tolerate any "political limits" to its military cooperation with Greece.

Karamanlis called Putin a friend, saying he congratulated him on the landslide victory of United Russia in State Duma elections on Dec. 2.

Putin reciprocated by saying Greece had vast experience in organizing Olympic Games and could help Russia prepare for the 2014 Winter Games. "Greece's rich experience is no doubt significant to us," he said.

Karamanlis' visit with Putin, part of a three-day trip to Russia, is the fifth top-level meeting between Russian and Greek officials in the past two years, the Kremlin said.