Tsipras to star at Putin in­vest­ment drive fo­rum


Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin will show­case plans for a Rus­sian re­cov­ery to in­vestors at a key eco­nomic fo­rum this week, sign­ing a ma­jor gas deal with Greece as it teeters on the brink of de­fault.

Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras will meet Putin on Fri­day at the St. Peters­burg In­ter­na­tional Eco­nomic Fo­rum, mak­ing his sec­ond visit to Rus­sia in less than three months.

Once billed as Rus­sia’s an­swer to Davos, this year’s fo­rum will be over­shad­owed by the con­flict in Ukraine, as well as tak­ing place against the back­drop of in­creas­ingly tense wran­glings over the Greek debt cri­sis.

An­a­lysts say they ex­pect few deals to be signed at the event amid con­tin­u­ing Western sanc­tions over Moscow’s al­leged sup­port for the pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists fight­ing in eastern Ukraine.

Tsipras has openly crit­i­cized the sanc­tions, but his deal­ings with Putin are un­likely to help his im­me­di­ate prob­lem of a dead­line at the end of the month for a 1.6-bil­lion-euro (US$1.8 bil­lion) pay­ment to the IMF.

“Tsipras is look­ing to ma­neu­ver” in an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion, but his ef­forts are un­likely to bring Athens any hard cash, said Yevgeny Gont­makher, an economist with the Rus­sian Academy of Sciences.

“He makes these trips to Rus­sia to show the Euro­peans that he has other cards to play. Ob­jec­tively, Rus­sia is not ca­pa­ble of re­solv­ing the prob­lem of Greek debt.”

The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly stressed that Greece has never re­quested di­rect fi­nan­cial aid from Moscow.

But ever since the rad­i­cal-left Syriza party swept Greece’s elec­tions in Jan­uary, Moscow has been court­ing Tsipras, a for­mer com­mu­nist who has made no se­cret of his de­sire for closer ties with Rus­sia.

Rus­sian gas gi­ant Gazprom has pro­posed foot­ing the bill for build­ing a Greek pipeline ex­ten­sion of the Rus­sia-Turk­ish TurkStream pro­ject that aims to de­liver gas to Europe while by­pass­ing Ukraine.

Greek Energy Min­is­ter Pana­gi­o­tis Lafaza­nis said while on a visit in Rus­sia ear­lier this month that the fi­nanc­ing has been agreed for the pro­ject, adding that con­struc­tion would boost em­ploy­ment and cost US$2 bil­lion.

Re­turn­ing In­vestor In­ter­est

Sanc­tions and the fall­ing oil price have con­trib­uted to Rus­sia’s re­ces­sion and to a 40 per­cent plum­met in the value of the ru­ble last year.

The Krem­lin has used its re­la­tion­ship with Tsipras to show that Rus­sia’s econ­omy is still strong and to point out cracks in Euro­pean sol­i­dar­ity over the bruis­ing sanc­tions against Moscow.

Putin, who is set to speak to in­ter­na­tional in­vestors at the fo­rum on Fri­day af­ter­noon, has re­peat­edly stressed that the econ­omy has passed the peak of the cri­sis and is be­gin­ning to re­cover.

He is likely to drive that point home in St. Peters­burg, but no ma­jor deals are ex­pected to be signed at the event, de­spite a re­vival in in­ter­est in Rus­sia in­vest­ment among some busi­nesses.

“De­spite the sanc­tions, de­spite the con­fronta­tion be­tween Rus­sia and the West, the first shock has passed and af­ter one year, there is a surge of in­ter­est from in­vestors,” said Niko­lai Petrov, a pro­fes­sor at the Higher School of Eco­nom­ics in Moscow.

The heads of oil giants Shell, BP and To­tal plan to come, and BP is close to sign­ing a deal to buy a 20-per­cent stake in an oil field from Rus­sia’s state-owned Ros­neft, ac­cord­ing to a Fi­nan­cial Times re­port.

The United States has warned Amer­i­cans against at­tend­ing, how­ever.

In 2014, many CEOs from Euro­pean and U.S. com­pa­nies can­celled their at­ten­dance af­ter Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from Ukraine.

“Rus­sia is flout­ing most fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of in­ter­na­tional law,” U.S. Am­bas­sador in Kiev Ge­of­frey Py­att wrote in a mes­sage to those con­sid­er­ing at­ten­dance.

“Not time for ‘busi­ness as usual,’” he said, warn­ing U.S. busi­nesses of eco­nomic and “rep­u­ta­tional risks.”

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