Greek hub, Russian gas

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Greece appears to have set the foundations for an ambitious plan for cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector, according to official statements and from the contacts of the multitude of Russian officials and businessmen with their Greek counterparts. Officials from state and private companies discussed investment programs for the construction of complementary gas distribution networks, underground natural gas reservoirs, the extension of the networks to Albania and other countries, the construction of pipelines and the participation of Russian companies in investments to produce electrical power for Greece and beyond. Officials in Athens believe that if this proceeds, Greece could become an «energy reservoir.» «We discussed many common projects in the energy sector which could be bilateral but could also take on an international dimension,» Putin said after a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Simitis. «I would like to note that if the programs in question are developed seriously, then our cooperation with Greece will be upgraded in quality. Greece will not only be self-sufficient or have stability in this sector of the economy, but will also be able to become an attractive partner for the whole of the European Union in terms of developing its energy capabilities and the possibilities of cooperation with Russia,» he said. «We place special emphasis on relations between the Russian federation and Greece. I have no doubt that cooperation between our two countries has very good possibilities.» Putin and Simitis acknowledged that this potential depended much on the interest that private entrepreneurs of their two countries would show. «The time when investments and cooperation were developed at states’ initiatives is over,» Simitis said. «It is businesses that must take action.» He said that the role of governments was «to see where there are bureaucratic obstacles, where we can create a better economic climate, where we can provide incentives for businesses.» Putin expressed hope that «there will be a response» from Greek business. «Some Russian companies feel especially comfortable in Europe, have sufficient self-confidence and are ready to take part in the liberalization of markets and the energy sector,» he said. Simitis noted Russia’s closer ties with NATO and the EU. «There can be no thought of a common foreign policy by the EU without direct contact, cooperation and agreement with Russia,» he said. Putin met later with Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and elaborated on a comment he had made on Thursday regarding the need for Russia not to be at a disadvantage in Greece’s arms procurements. Putin ends his official visit today with a visit to Thessaloniki and the monastic community on Mount Athos.