During a press conference with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (8 April), Greek PM Alexis Tsipras expressed his country’s will to play a big role in the Turkish Stream pipeline project aiming to boost investments in the cash-strapped economy. EurActiv Greece reports.
In the light of the worst standoff between the West and Russia since the Cold War, Tsipras is paying a two-day visit to Moscow (8-9 April), where energy issues dominated the discussions between Greek and Russian government officials.
The previous day (7 April), foreign ministers from Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) signed a declaration of intent regarding the Turkish Stream project, in Budapest.
Bypassing Kyiv, and punishing Sofia for having obstructed the construction of scrapped South Stream, the new Turkish Stream pipeline will travel across the Black Sea to the Turkish city of Ipsila, close to the Greek-Turkish border. Its aim is to deliver 47 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to Central Europe and the Balkans.
Tsipras and Putin agreed that Greece could play a big role in the Turkish Stream pipeline project, making it a hub between Turkey and the European gas market.
“The new route will provide for Europeans’ fuel needs, and would allow Greece to become one of the main power distribution centres on the continent, and could help attract significant investment into the Greek economy,” Putin said during the joint news conference with Tsipras.
“Our pipelines will receive gas from the Turkish border, and will provide energy security for both Greece and the European market,” Tsipras noted, adding that the Russian project will boost jobs and growth in the debt-ridden country.
Putin’s slip of tongue
Talking about the Greek branch of Turkish Stream during the press conference, the Russian President referred to the “Turkish Stream” pipeline in the Greek territory prompting the reaction of the Greek PM.
“We have to make it clear […] there will not be any Turkish Stream in the Greek territory but a Greek pipeline,” clarified Tsipras, with Putin silently admitting his slip of a tongue by knocking his head.
Later, Tsipras said: “We cannot accept the “Turkish Stream” name, but we consider that the project would improve our relations with Turkey.”
Putin said that Greece would receive “hundreds of millions of euros of transit taxes a year, just like that,” from the pipeline, and that it would provide new jobs. But he added that the financing of the project still needed to be agreed on between Russia and “the Greek partners, and friends”.
Tsipras also emphasised that the project would comply with EU and Greek regulations that don’t allow the same company to produce, deliver, and own the pipelines.
Russia is considering soon giving Greece funds based on future profits it could earn from shipping Russian gas to Europe as part of a pipeline extension, two Greek government sources quoted by Reuters said.
The same arrangement was proposed by Russia to cash-strapped Bulgaria for the now defunct South Stream project. Bulgaria blocked the project because the Commission said it was infringing the Third Energy Package.
Greece imports 65% of its annual gas needs from Russia. Despite a deal for a gas price reduction by 15% last year between natural gas importer and distributor (DEPA) and Gazprom, Greeks keep on paying the highest bill in Europe.
According to reports in Athens, a discussion about the creation of a joint venture for the construction of the Turkish Stream pipeline will start soon, with state-owned DEPA being the main shareholder along with Russian funds.
The coalition divided?
In the meantime, during a visit last week to New York, Panos Kammenos, the head of the Independent Greeks, Syriza’s right-wing coalition partner, spoke in favour of a 70%-30% “government to government” agreement with the US over the co-exploitation of gas and oil deposits in the Aegean.
After he noted the significant role of the US in the stabilization of the region, Kammenos said that “Greece and Cyprus, due to the new gas and oil deposits in the region, in cooperation with Israel, can form a large bow (of) peace”.
But, during a meeting with Gazprom’s Alexei Miller, Syriza energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said that Russian companies will participate in the tender for hydrocarbon exploration in 20 offshore blocks in the Ionian Sea, and south of the island of Crete.
“I am in the pleasant position to tell you that major Russian companies will participate in the tenders, thus greatly expanding the depth of international interest and participation.”
Asked about Kammenos’s statement over a possible agreement with the US, he declined to comment.
Cooperation with Israel has become more complicated, as the Syriza-led government is committed to recognizing Palestine.
In a recent interview with EurActiv Greece, Syriza MEP Sofia Sakorafa stressed that “There is a fixed commitment of the Greek government to recognize Palestine as a state […] I estimate that very soon the Greek government will also raise the issue.”
Facing objections from the European Union, in December, Russia abandoned its $40 billion South Stream project which would have been extended under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and carry up to 63 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually to Europe.
Instead, Russian gas exporter Gazprom said in January it planned to build an undersea gas pipeline with the same capacity to an as-yet unbuilt hub on the Turkish-Greek border by the end of 2016.
The EU is sceptical as to the chances of this project and officials in Ankara said that its timeframe was unrealistic.
- The Kremlin: Full transcript of the press conference