MOSCOW – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrived in Moscow on the evening of December 6 for talks the next day with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Premier Dmitry Medvedev aimed at boosting relations and ensuring a Greek role in a Russian gas pipeline to Europe.
“The Greek Prime Minister is coming to Moscow in the hope of building bridges and gas pipelines,” Chris Weafer, a senior partner at Macro-Advisory in Moscow, told New Europe.
Traditional allies, Athens and Moscow are reportedly eager to repair the damage caused by a diplomatic dispute that resulted in the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from Greece after evidence revealed that Russia was trying to bribe officials and foment opposition demonstrations to a controversial deal between Athens and FYROM/Macedonia over the latter’s name that would likely to pave the way for Skopje’s NATO membership, which Russia sees as an attempt to weaken its influence in the western Balkans.
“Moscow views Greece as one of the friendly states within the EU. But that view was certainly shaken as a result of the expulsion of Russian diplomats amidst allegations of political interference,” Weafer said. “Both Putin and Tsipras will be equally keen to move on from that episode.”
The official reason for the timing of Tsipras’ official visit is to mark the 190th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Greece, however, Putin and Tsipras see this as an opportunity to advance their countries’ agendas.
The two leaders are expected to discuss cooperation on economy, investments and energy. Regional issues, including Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey, and the Cyprus problem, as well as Russia’s relations with the EU and NATO, are also expected to be on the agenda.
Putin sees Greece as an ally within the EU and the Tsipras wants his country to play a key role if the second line of Turkish Stream or TurkStream, with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters, is extended to Europe.
Russian energy giant Gazprom has completed the first 15.75-billion-cubic-meter line to Turkey for local gas consumption.
“Putin wants to maintain good political ties with an EU state, while Tsipras wants to make sure the previous commitment for gas supply and investment into pipelines and other energy projects is maintained,” Weafer said.
“The Greek Prime Minister will also ask Russia to route the second line of the Turkish Stream pipeline via Greece, and then north to the Balkan states and Italy. That seems very unlikely and the Greeks undoubtedly understand that ” Weafer said, noting that the Plan B for Tsipras will be to ensure that a spur line is built south from the Bulgarian route to at least ensure Greece is plugged into the system so that it can get a secure supply and, preferably, a politically discounted price.
Putin cancelled plans to build the planned South Stream gas pipeline in December 2014 after blaming the European Union for blocking the project in the wake of the EU’s response to Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in March of that year.
Similar to South Stream, Turkish Stream is part of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom’s plans to bypass Ukraine, currently the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe.
With an eye on following EU rules and procedures, Putin wants to avoid all eventual mistakes that in the past have led to the cancellation of South Stream.
“Russia is not in any hurry to agree on the route for line 2 of Turkish Stream. It wants a clear signal from Brussels that it will not look to block line 2 through the Balkans. It does not want a repeat of the South Stream battle,” Weafer said. “Moscow will probably wait until it gets a no-objection to the project from Brussels. Adding Athens to the group of active lobbyists for the project, after this weekend’s visit, will suit the Kremlin just fine.”
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