Energy to top the agenda during Russian president’s Athens visit

Energy to top the agenda during Russian president’s Athens visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin is arriving in Greece on May 28, with the main subject topping his agenda being the promotion of a new conduit for the transmission of Russian natural gas via Bulgaria and Greece, including the utilization of the plan for the Interconnector Greece-Italy (IGI) pipeline.

The Russian president’s energy agenda also includes the revival of Russian companies’s interest in the privatizations of the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) and Hellenic Petroleum, should they go ahead, as well as Russian electricity companies’ joint ventures with Public Power Corporation (PPC). The Russian interest in Thessaloniki Port Authority and Trainose will also be reassessed.

Putin’s visit to Athens is seen as politically important both for the Russian side, which is looking forward to Greece’s support for the promotion of its new geopolitical strategy in the broader region, and for the Greek government, which will again attempt to use the Russian interest as an asset in its crucial negotiations with the eurozone.

After abandoning the South Stream and Turkish Stream pipeline plans, as well as the problematic Ukrainian route, Moscow is seeking to redraw the map for transmitting Gazprom’s gas to Southern Europe. Its aim remains to beat off competition from the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will channel Azeri gas to the European market.

In that context, and despite opposition from Brussels and Washington, Moscow has secured the support of Greece and Italy for the rescheduling of IGI, originally planned as a project to help reduce European Union dependence on Russia in terms of gas sources and routes.

The first expression of support from Athens and Rome for that Russian initiative came in February in the signing of a memorandum of cooperation by DEPA, Italy’s Edison and Gazprom, regarding the examination of the IGI plan’s possible resurrection. During his Athens visit Putin will seek to secure further support from the Greek side in return for Russia’s support in the Greek privatizations program.

As statements by Energy Minister Panos Skourletis have shown, the Greek government also expects Russian support in implementing a plan for private investors to form partnerships with PPC regarding the operation of existing or new electricity production units in order to avoid the current painful plan to sell off plants. It was the Russian side that started this discussion, citing Greece’s obligations concerning older offsetting measures related to the first contracts for the supply of natural gas. Now Moscow is demanding the direct concession of the lignite reserve at Vevi, near Florina.

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