ECONOMY

Is the Russian bearing gifts to the Greeks?

The chairman of the board of Russia’s natural gas giant Gazprom, Alexey Miller, is expected in Athens today, probably carrying with him a proposal for a strategic alliance in the energy sector, sources said. The importance of the visit is indicated by the fact that besides senior and junior ministers, and the head of the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA), Miller is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. Miller reportedly requested these meetings himself and they were arranged some three weeks ago. He had scheduled the trip to Athens within the context of Gazprom’s business partnership with the Kopelouzos energy group, which is a major player in the plan to build an oil pipeline between the Bulgarian port of Burgas on the Black Sea and Alexandroupolis on the Aegean coast. Officials from both the Development and the Foreign ministries stressed yesterday there was no set agenda and avoided providing further details. It appears that the meetings would have been secret had it not been for a revelation by Skai Radio. A further fact underscoring the importance of the visit is that Miller, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is coming at a time when Gazprom is said to be reassessing its overall strategy. The new strategy seems to be focusing on increasing the quantities of natural gas the company allocates to the European market. In this context it eyes both the extension of long-term contracts for natural gas sale to various country-clients and the search for new routes for the transmission of these increased quantities. This strategic planning seems to include Greece as a transit country. Competent officials were stressing yesterday the intense Russian interest in the Greek-Turkish-Italian natural gas pipeline which will allow for greater quantities to reach Western Europe. «Russia wishes to select its strategic partners for the next 30 years from now,» the country’s Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko stated yesterday after his meeting in Moscow with his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Ovcharov. Sofia and Moscow agree on gas transit SOFIA (Reuters) – Russian gas giant Gazprom has offered to increase its transit of natural gas through Bulgaria to Serbia and Greece and will keep its current transit contract with Bulgaria unchanged, officials said yesterday. Sofia and Moscow have been warily circling each other since last month, when Bulgaria rejected a demand by Gazprom to change its transit contract because it said it would raise the price it pays for gas. But ministry spokeswoman Elena Yotova said they agreed to keep the pact unchanged after Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov met with his Russian counterpart Viktor Khristenko and Gazprom officials in Moscow yesterday. «There will be no change in the contract for the transit of gas through Bulgaria through 2010,» she said. Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry added Russia had offered to extend the contract by 10 years and talks for a «strategic partnership» in the energy sector after 2010 would be launched soon. «Gazprom’s officials have offered an increase of gas transits through Bulgaria, which includes the building of a new pipeline to Serbia and the capacity expansion of an existing one to Greece,» it said in a statement. Bulgarian gas monopoly Bulgargaz controls a 2,645-kilometer pipeline network with a total capacity of 18.7 billion cubic meters (bcm). It transported 15.5 bcm of Russian gas to Turkey, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia last year. In December 2004 Bulgargaz signed a contract with Gazprom to increase the transit supply to Greece by 50 percent through 2010. The Russian gas transits to Greece stood at 2.4 bcm last year, up 9.7 percent, data from Bulgargaz showed. Gazprom reduced supplies to Serbia last month due to freezing weather and transport problems but later restored the flow. It has expressed interest in projects such as building a 250-kilometer pipeline that should link southern Serbian town of Nis to Bulgarian town of Dupnitsa. Bulgaria gas monopoly Bulgargaz has said it is ready to build the 107 kilometer link on its territory, which it estimates will cost 60-70 million euros, for two years. Gazprom now pays transit fees to Bulgaria in the form of gas now set at around $83 per thousand cubic meters, compared with the $257 Bulgaria pays for supply not covered by that contract.