EXCLUSIVE / Athens is not planning to advance talks on the Russia-backed Poseidon pipeline, seen as a direct competitor to the EU-backed TAP pipeline, during a forthcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s to the country.
Greece on Tuesday (17 May) launched construction on a 550-kilometre section of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras eager for the 8,000 jobs it will bring to the country’s crisis-hit economy.
Planned to operate from 2019, the TAP pipeline will bring gas from the vast Azerbaijani Shah Deniz 2 offshore gas field, via western Turkey, to Greece, Albania and across the Adriatic to Italy.
Tsipras said the pipeline would usher Greece and Europe into a “new era.”
“TAP is one of the greatest direct foreign investment projects carried out in Greece,” Tsipras said at the ceremony held in Thessaloniki.
A direct competitor to the offshore TAP section is Poseidon, a Gazprom-driven offshore pipeline project to bring Russian gas from Greece to Italy. A “Memorandum of Understanding” to develop Poseidon was signed on 24 February between Gazprom, Italy’s Edison and Greece’s DEPA public gas supply corporation.
But it is not clear yet how the Russian gas will reach Greece in the first place, with two options currently on the table ― via Turkey or Bulgaria.
“No essential result”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected in Athens on 28 May and reports in Athens suggest energy will be high in the agenda. Some reports suggested Poseidon would feature in the talks as well.
However, EURACTIV.com has learnt that the main focus of Putin’s visit to Greece will not be on energy issues.
Diplomatic sources close to the issue told EURACTIV.com that there would be a discussion over energy but with “no essential result”.
“Taking into account the bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia, no discussion on energy issues could make a progress,” the sources stressed.
Indeed, following the downing of the Russian jet at the Syria-Turkey border on 24 November 2015, the relations between Moscow and Ankara have deteriorated hugely, and the project called “Turkish Stream” to bring Russian gas across the Black Sea to the European territory of Turkey has been shelved.
EURACTIV was informed that the two sides would focus on the bilateral economic relations with special emphasis on tourism.
“We will have serious discussion over tourism with an aim to increase the number of Russian tourists visiting our country,” the sources noted.
Athens and Moscow will also examine the prospect of increasing the Greek exports without violating the embargo as well as Russian investments in energy assets like DEPA, the Public Power Corporation S.A. (PPC) and railway company TRAINOSE.
Visa-free regime for Russians
Prior to the Ukraine conflict, Moscow was in talks with the EU on visa-free travel for Russian nationals, but the talks were suspended.
The diplomatic sources said that Athens was examining possibilities to unfreeze the process for the visa liberalisation of Russians traveling to the EU.
“While this is happening for Turkey, Ukraine […] we need to unblock it for Russians too,” the source said. The Commission has proposed lifting the visa barrier for nationals of Ukraine and of Turkey. The Council and the European Parliament are yet to take position, and possibly some nationals parliaments as well.
Enhance the political dialogue
Another objective for the Greek diplomacy is to boost the political dialogue between the two nations.
“We want to enhance the political dialogue with Russia […] there are some issues that we agree and some others that we disagree”.
The source cited among others the Syria conflict, which is connected with the refugee crisis as well as the Cyprus issue.
Another crucial issue for Greeks is the Ukraine conflict, as Mariupol, a Ukrainian city with sizeable Russian population, also has a big Greek community.
The two countries will also talk about cultural events, as 2016 has been designated as a cross-cultural year between Russia and Greece.