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29th Mar 2020

Tsipras flies to Moscow amid gas talks

  • Greece is looking for reduced prices for gas supply from Russia (Photo: qwertyuiop)

Is Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras trying to overturn EU policies on Russia and gas supply?

His visit to Moscow on Wednesday (8 April) could result in a deal for a discount on Russian gas, while his foreign affairs minister was in Budapest on Tuesday discussing ways to deliver Russian gas to the Balkans through Turkey.

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On Tuesday, Russian business daily Kommersant reported that the Russian government is considering supplying Greece with gas at a reduced rate.

"We are ready to discuss the issue of providing Greece with a discount on gas. Under the contract, its price is tied to the price of oil, which has dropped significantly in recent months," a Russian official was quoted as saying.

"We are also ready to discuss the possibility of issuing new credit to Greece," the official also said.

Contacted by EUobserver, Tsipras’ office declined to comment on the report. The prime minister and his closest aides were already on their way to Moscow.

Speculations over a gas deal come as Greek foreign affairs minister Nikos Kotzias is in Budapest to discuss energy co-operation with his Hungarian, Turkish, Serbian, Bulgarian and Macedonian counterparts.

The ministers from the six countries were expected to sign a joint declaration about the so-called Turkish Stream project, a pipeline bringing Russian gas to Europe through Turkey.

The Turkish Stream project was launched by Russian leader Vladimir Putin last December as an alternative to the abandoned South Stream.

Putin dropped South Stream after Bulgaria refused to allow the pipeline to run through its territory.

Bulgaria had been under EU pressure because Russian gas giant Gazprom would have been in charge both of the gas supplied and of the infrastructure supplying it, a model which EU rules forbid.

Greece is crucial to the Turkish Stream project, which was discussed by Putin and by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 17 March, because a hub on Greek soil is needed to transit the Russian gas from Turkey to Europe.

Greek foreign minister Kotzias will fly directly from Budapest to Moscow to join Tsipras in his talks with Putin.

Last week, Greek daily Kathimerini reported that Greek energy minister Panayiotis Lafazanis had agreed with Gazprom chief Alexey Miller on Greece’s participation in Turkish Stream.

"The plan foresees the creation of a consortium in which Greece’s Public Gas Corporation [DEPA] would play a key role along with Russian funds and possibly also European clients of Gazprom," wrote Kathimerini.

Gazprom tried to buy DEPA in 2013, under Tspiras’ right-wing predecessor Antonis Samaras, but no agreement could be reached.

Such a plan would risk break EU rules on energy market and supply security.

The issue is sensitive as, at the last EU summit in March, EU leaders including Tsipras agreed to "reinforce transparency of agreements [with external suppliers] and compatibility with EU energy security provisions."

The move was directly aimed at Gazprom, which is already under an EU investigation on allegations of abusing its dominant market position.

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