Underlying questions

Several aspects of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Athens have been mentioned by commentators but not sufficiently assessed. First, it became clear that Russia is not yet fully accustomed to its new global role. Moscow does seem to have accepted the US as the sole superpower and it has finally shifted its primary focus to economic restructuring as a basis for regenerating its international influence. This factor places Russia’s interest in the Greek market, and particularly the energy sector, in a new light. Oil, natural gas and electricity form an interrelated sector which clearly interests the Russian leadership. Everything seems to suggest that this is the idea that Putin sold to the Greek political leadership. The Russian president is clearly interested in Greece as it is an advanced and stable country in the broader Balkan peninsula, a eurozone member that can constitute a solid basis for the penetration of Russian interests in other spheres with good development prospects. The question is whether the Greek government has mapped out a specific strategy for this kind of development. Will the Greek government, for example, sign long-term deals for the supply of oil and natural gas, which apart from covering its consumer needs will also transform it into a country with substantial reserves? And if this was agreed, what would be the role of Hellenic Petroleum and the gas company (DEPA)? Will they remain in the public sector, seek out strategic partnerships, merge with private groups, establish alliances in Europe, or try to expand in the wider Balkans region and the Mediterranean? Will the power industry be connected to the above and what will the role of the Public Power Corporation (PPC) be? How many power-production units will be created, and could Greece perhaps become an energy hub capable of covering the needs of Bulgaria, which will soon have to shut down the dangerous Kozlodui nuclear plant? Will Greece exploit lignite, a cheap raw material which allows PPC to produce electrical currency at a far lower price than does Italy? These are all underlying but crucial questions that transcend the formalities of Putin’s visit. For the time being, however, they remain unanswered. 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.

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