The Greek and Russian leaders signed a deal yesterday in Moscow on Greece’s participation in a gas pipeline deal that will help boost the country’s role as an energy hub in the region and feed its growing energy appetite. The deal was signed at a Kremlin ceremony attended by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The proposed Russian-Italian South Stream pipeline will pump Russian gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria before splitting into two branches. One branch will take gas northwest to Austria, while the other will head southwest to Italy, going through Greek territory. «Based on these facts, Greece sees as being particularly positive the construction (of the pipeline) based on the conditions of growing demand,» said Karamanlis. According to experts, the amount of natural gas being consumed in Greece over the next eight years is expected to double. Meanwhile, Putin said both the South Stream project and a proposed Russian-backed oil pipeline through Greece could only benefit Europe. «The aim is to significantly increase the energy security, not only of the Balkans but of the entire European continent,» Putin said, before warning critics in Europe that they should not snub Russian gas. «The countries that are capable of supplying raw fuels in the necessary volumes at competitive prices for Europe can be counted on the fingers of one hand,» the Russian president said. The two leaders also discussed the 280-kilometer (175-mile) Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline that will connect the Black Sea to the Aegean as a vital alternative route, bypassing the tanker-congested Bosporus Strait. Joint steps in Europe’s energy map have also resulted in frequent reciprocal visits by Karamanlis and Putin. Yesterday’s visit by Karamanlis to Moscow is his third trip to Russia, while Putin has also visited Greece three times. The Greek prime minister is additionally thought to have discussed the possibility of buying Russian aircraft or weaponry during his Moscow visit. «We are depending on the positive role that Greece always played for Russian ties in Europe,» said Putin, referring to the many common political positions the two countries share. «Our bilateral ties will continue to grow,» he added. Putin hands over his position to Dmitry Medvedev on May 7. Karamanlis also met with Medvedev yesterday.