Amid ris­ing US in­flu­ence, gov’t keeps open chan­nel with Rus­sia

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY ILIAS BELLOS

Be­hind the scenes of high-pro­file con­tacts be­tween Greek gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and the Amer­i­can side, the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice is also main­tain­ing ties with Moscow, sources sug­gest, though not to a de­gree that would ap­pease Rus­sian jit­ters over Wash­ing­ton’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in Greece’s en­ergy plan­ning. The bal­ance of th­ese op­pos­ing forces will also de­ter­mine the Rus­sian in­vest­ment agenda in Greece.

The bench­mark as well as the lever for Rus­sian plans will be the de­ci­sion re­gard­ing whether or not Rus­sian Rail­ways (RZD) will par­tic­i­pate in the on­go­ing ten­ders for Greek rail­way com­pa­nies Train­ose and Rosco, and for the Thes­sa­loniki Port Author­ity (OLTH), ac­cord­ing to diplo­matic sources. Th­ese also see the next of­fi­cial meet­ing be­tween Athens and Moscow as key to de­ter­min­ing the course of re­la­tions be­tween the two gov­ern­ments.

That is why about two weeks ago, while US State Depart­ment Spe­cial En­voy for En­ergy Af­fairs Amos Hochstein was in Athens, there was a very in­ter­est­ing meet­ing tak­ing place in Moscow: On Oc­to­ber 14, Rus­sian En­ergy Min­is­ter Alexan­der No­vak met with the Greek gen­eral sec­re­tary for in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic re­la­tions of the For­eign Min­istry, Gior­gios Tsipras.

Rus­sian sources said the talks be­tween No­vak and Tsipras – cousin to the Greek prime min­is­ter – fo­cused on co­op­er­a­tion in nat­u­ral gas. The same sources added that the two men dis­cussed is­sues re­lated to a planned visit to Rus­sia by Greek En­vi­ron­ment and En­ergy Min­is­ter Panos Sk­ourletis.

A few days later, while US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State Vic­to­ria Nu­land and Bul­gar­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Daniel Mi­tov were in Athens, con­tacts be­tween Athens and Moscow con­tin­ued on a diplo­matic level, with the agenda in­clud­ing dis­cus­sions on whether there could be ad­e­quate progress achieved for a top Rus­sian of­fi­cial to make a for­mal visit to Greece, pos­si­bly even the Rus­sian prime min­is­ter.

The Rus­sians’ top pri­or­ity is to con­tinue ef­forts for the con­struc­tion of a new Rus­sian pipe­line that would cross Turkey and Greece, with the prospect of ex­tend­ing into Cen­tral Europe.

The in­stal­la­tion of a liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas (LNG) ter­mi­nal at Alexan­droupoli and the GreeceBul­garia gas in­ter­con­nect­ing pipe­line (IGB) be­ing pro­moted by the US, and the Greek-Turk­ish pipe­line be­ing pushed by Moscow re­quire sig­nif­i­cant con­tracted quan­ti­ties for the sale of nat­u­ral gas to ren­der their con­struc­tion fi­nan­cially sus­tain­able. This prob­lem has not yet been solved, though th­ese projects would in­deed make Greece a Euro­pean junc­tion in the trans­mis­sion of LNG.

Rus­sian En­ergy Min­is­ter Alexan­der No­vak held talks with Greek Gen­eral Sec­re­tary for In­ter­na­tional Eco­nomic Re­la­tions Georgios Tsipras.

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