ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Russia is willing to consider giving financial aid to Greece, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Friday ahead of talks between the leaders of the two countries.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras traveled to Russia as his country struggles to reach a deal with its creditors for new loans it needs to avoid defaulting on debt payments at the end of the month. Without the bailout, Greece could be headed for bankruptcy or an exit from the euro.
Tsipras's visit has given rise to speculation that the Greeks may be seeking Russian loans.
"If the Greeks ask for a loan then we will consider it, but they have not yet asked," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told The Associated Press. "We would do this because they are our partners and this is a normal practice between countries who are partners."
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich also said Russia would consider a loan.
"The most important things for us are investment projects and trade with Greece. If financial support is needed, we will consider this question," he said in an interview on RT television, the Tass news agency reported.
Dvorkovich spoke after Russia and Greece signed a deal Friday to build an extension of a prospective 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. Construction of the pipeline is expected to start next year and be completed in 2019.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia and Greece would be equal partners in the project, with Russia's half owned by the state bank VEB.
The deal was signed on the sidelines of Russia's main investment forum, an annual gathering of government officials and business leaders from Russia and abroad.
Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said during one session that Russia had no plans to buy Greek bonds, but was ready support the Greek economy by stimulating investment by Russian companies. He pointed to the gas pipeline as an example.
Tsipras started his day by speaking to Russians of Greek ancestry at a memorial to Ioannis Kapodistrias, the founder of the modern Greek state who had lived and worked in Russia as a Greek envoy from 1809 to 1822.
"We are starting a new era in Greek-Russian relations and we consider you who live here to be playing a very important part in this effort," Tsipras said. "Greece has been waging a brave fight in these past few weeks and months. You are well aware of these types of difficulties and you are now standing on your feet. This is the key characteristic of the Greek people, to be able to overcome difficulties when right is on their side. The effort is one made not by the government but by the entire Greek people."