Putin: Greece did not seek financial aid from Russia

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Media captionThe ties that bind Greece and Russia are many and long-standing, as Chris Morris reports from Athens

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras did not ask for financial aid from Russia during talks in Moscow, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has said.

There had been speculation that Mr Tsipras would seek Russian aid to ease Greece's debt crisis, and to counter pressure from its creditors in the EU.

Mr Putin said Russia would consider loans to Greece for big joint projects, potentially in the energy sector.

But analysts say Russia's own economic woes mean any help would be limited.

Greece's new government is embroiled in negotiations with the EU and IMF to unblock a bailout package and could run out of funds within weeks.

Russia was among Greece's leading trade partners before sanctions on its energy industry and Greece's own economic difficulties reduced trade between the two countries by 40%.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Tsipras - seen here laying a wreath - was received with pomp at the Kremlin

Mr Putin called for trade relations to be restored, and said the two leaders had discussed "various ways of co-operating, including major projects in energy".

"Under these plans, we could provide loans for certain projects," he said, adding that it was not a question of aid.

One of those plans is for a pipeline called "Turkish Stream", to channel natural gas from the Turkish-Greek border into Greece.

'Restart relations'

Mr Tsipras received a warm welcome in Moscow, which has seen its ties with the EU strained over Russia's actions in the Ukraine conflict.

There had been growing speculation before his visit that Greece would use its relationship with Russia to strengthen its hand in dealings with the EU.

In an apparent response to the speculation, Mr Tsipras said: "Greece is a sovereign state with an indisputable right to its own foreign policy."

He also called for an end to the "vicious cycle of sanctions" imposed on Russia by the EU over its role in Ukraine.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz had said before Mr Tsipras' visit that he should not break with the EU line on sanctions.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Tsipras and Mr Putin agreed that they would like to see better trading ties

However, the Greek leader also said his country respected its international obligations.

And President Putin denied the suggestion that Russia would use Greece to drive a wedge within the EU.

"About mythology and Trojan horses and so forth: the question would be valid if I was the one going to Athens," he said. "We are not forcing anyone to do anything."

According to Constantinos Filis from the Institute of International Relations, an Athens-based think tank, Russia is not in a position to solve Greece's economic issues.

"Russia is not and cannot be a (EU) substitute for Greece. It can only be a supplementary option," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Greek fruit farmers saw Russia as a valuable export market until the sanctions imposed last year

Analysis: Oleg Boldyrev, BBC Russian service

Alexis Tsipras' visit to Moscow gave ground to lots of speculation, but most of it didn't bear any fruit. Not even actual fruit - Greece's agricultural exports to Russia which stopped after Moscow slapped its own embargo in response to EU sanctions.

Before the visit, noises were made about a partial exception, which would bring Greek agricultural producers some hope of restoring exports to Russia. But Vladimir Putin dismissed the idea.

After the meeting, the two leaders spoke of hopes for repairing trade, bringing Russian tourists back to Greece's beaches, and supplying Russian gas to Greece via a yet-to-be built pipeline.

But it is impossible to predict when the two countries can reap real profits from these ideas.

Mr Tsipras came to power pledging to end austerity, but his plans have met resistance from Greece's EU/IMF creditors, who lent the country billions to help it avoid bankruptcy.

Greece has not received bailout funds since August last year, with the EU and IMF dissatisfied with the pace of Greek reforms.

A Greek repayment of €448m to the IMF is due this Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Greek government said Germany owed Greece nearly €279bn (£204bn; $303bn) in war reparations for the Nazi occupation during World War Two.

It is the first time Greece has calculated what Germany allegedly owes.

But Germany says the matter was resolved legally years ago. Reacting to the claim, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was "dumb" to link Greece's bailout with the question of war reparations.