Russia tells Athens to judge gas suitors on their financial merit

Moscow sent a clear signal to Athens on Thursday regarding the privatization of Greek gas companies: that there should be no other criteria used beyond the strictly financial.

Addressing the 1st Greek-Russian Business Forum in Thessaloniki, Russia’s general consul in Greece, Alexey Popov, expressed confidence that “if business criteria are eventually used,” there is a great chance that DEPA and DESFA will be acquired by Russian firms Gazprom and Sintez.

Asked by reporters to elaborate, Popov stated: “Of course the criteria are determined by the Greek side. The tender is conducted according to the proposals that contain specific figures. Decisions are made based on them. Russian companies are well-known and have prestige, so their chances are good.” Asked whether he was afraid the tender might be decided on non-financial criteria, Popov said, “I’m afraid of nothing.”

The reservations that Popov indirectly expressed concern pressure that is being applied on Athens by Europe and the US not to allow Gazprom to strengthen its position in the European market. This pressure is considered to be the reason behind the consecutive postponements of the deadline for offers for DEPA and DESFA, now set for May 29.

The Russians’ main worry is how the European Commission’s competition department will react when asked to approve the contract for the transfer of DEPA to Gazprom if the Russians do in fact win the tender for the Public Gas Corporation.

The Russian consul also confirmed that Russian Railways is interested in Greek rail service operator TRAINOSE. “There have already been some contacts on this issue,” Popov said. He added that Russian investments are already being implemented in various sectors in Greece, such as hotels and real estate, while acknowledging Russian interest in Greek ports.

Ahead of the start of the tender for TRAINOSE in June, representatives of Russian Railways had a meeting with the management of the Greek state privatization fund, saying they are prepared to match any offer made by their rival suitor, China.