Russia seeks rapprochement over energy, eyes Greek railways

Moscow is using top-level diplomacy in an attempt to dispel the shadows in its relations with Athens cast by the unexpected withdrawal of Russian energy giant Gazprom from the tender for the privatization of Greece’s Public Gas Corporation (DEPA), at a time when the Greek government is eager to make headway in the sale of public assets and reducing energy costs.

President Vladimir Putin has decided to send a personal friend, president of the Russian Federation Council and former ambassador to Greece Valentina Matvienko, to Athens in three weeks’ time.

A person of high political stature in Russia, Matvienko’s visit is seen as an indication of the importance that Moscow ascribes to the resolution of pending issues. The first such issue is Greece’s desire to reduce the price of natural gas for DEPA so as to lighten the costs for the country’s energy-intensive industries and consumers already hit by high taxes.

In a letter to Putin about a month ago, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras asked for a reduction in the price that DEPA pays for natural gas, which according to market data is 30 percent higher than the European average. And even though negotiations between DEPA and Gazprom have commenced, the attitude of the Russian side – which according to reports has already canceled one scheduled meeting – is seen containing an element of procrastination related to decisions being adopted at a political level.

Energy issues aside, Russian Railways is expected to express an interest in the privatization of the Hellenic Railways Organization’s operating and rolling stock companies (Trainose and Rosco respectively). This was revealed during a recent visit to Greece by the CEO of the Russian company, Vladimir Yakunin, who also indicated an interest in participating in the tender for the planned privatization of the Thessaloniki Port Authority. The Russians, in fact, are reported to have already held extensive talks with Greek railway officials.