Last winter’s OPEC production cutback falling short of objectives

It may be too soon to measure the impact on the international crude market of an OPEC decision reached last winter to cut back on output, but current indications suggest the move’s objectives are not been reached.

OPEC, backed by Russia, decided to lower output with the objective of diminishing increased international crude reserves and offering support to oil price levels. The OPEC initiative also had another strategic objective in mind, to maintain long-term control for the cartel, or, more specifically, Saudi Arabia, over the international market, now subject to changing forces.

Several months on, output has been restricted by 1.2 million bpd and oil reserves have been reduced at a slower-than-expected rate, as higher prices ended up prompting the US to reinforce its output.

Two days ago, the Brent index stood slightly above 50 dollars, the level it was at on November 29, 2016, a day before the OPEC agreement was signed. Yesterday, the Brent index fell to just under 50 dollars.

Latest data has shown a rise in the number of oil drilling projects being conducted in the US. This is not good news for Riyadh, especially given the support being provided by the USA’s newly elected Republican administration, already moving to dismantle environmental restrictions as a means of boosting American output.

OPEC members are scheduled to meet next month to decide on whether to extend the cartel’s current output cutback, a six-month agreement. Analysts confidently forecast a renewal of the deal as, otherwise, oil prices could collapse.

From a wider perspective, the overall market conditions of recent times have served Saudi Arabia’s interests well. Low oil prices of the past two years or so have restricted international oil industry investments in new production to historic lows.

Even so, Riyadh cannot draw any conclusions for a few more years. Saudi Arabia needs a further boost amid a changing environment in which the role and impact of OPEC in the international oil market has clearly changed. Long-term prospects suggest the cartel will need to try and salvage whatever it can from a glorious past.



Trump’s stance could reshape Europe’s foreign and energy policies

The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency may bring about changes to Europe’s energy and foreign policies if the new American leader insists on pursuing a path leading to isolationism and warmer ties with Russia.

As for the Russian part of the equation, speculation of Trump’s close personal and business associations with the Kremlin has become widely known. The disclosure of Russia’s alleged intervention in the US elections, the objective being to push Trump to power, has stunned the political landscape worldwide.

If these developments are transformed into foreign policy then major shifts in balances of power can be expected in regions such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East and central Asia.

Trump’s ongoing disparagement of NATO is not an encouraging sign for countries of the former eastern bloc. They view Russia with hesitancy and need allies, Ukraine being an obvious example.

A change of energy market roles for Russia and Ukraine would severely impact Europe’s energy policy. For many years now, Ukraine’s extensive pipeline network has been used by Russia to transmit its natural gas to Europe. However, as a result of troubled relations between Moscow and Kiev, the Kremlin has sought strategic independence from Ukraine over the past decade or so. Russia has been promoting the development of new gas supply lines to Europe such as Nord Stream 1 and 2, South Stream and Turkish Stream, all of which bypass Ukraine.

Russian wants to establish itself as a gas supplier to Europe via a seamless network, which would enable the country to increase its supply and control both networks and the market.

The European Commission claims it wants reduce its Russian energy dependence, despite the fact that consumption has increased, as highlighted by market data for 2016.

Brussels essentially does not want Russia to develop new pipelines as it fears Europe’s influence on energy issues will diminish. Another European fear is that Ukraine will be completely abandoned to Russian intentions. Ukraine’s pipeline network is its most powerful bargaining tool opposite Russia. If Trump insists on a pro-Russia policy, prompting a US-Ukraine split, then Europe will be Ukraine’s only remaining ally.






Greece must back US in Europe’s energy battle, ambassador tells

Greece will need to pursue its energy policies in accordance with American regional priorities and interests or else be viewed as a rival force, the Barack Obama-nominated US ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt noted yesterday at a local industry event, the Athens Energy Forum. The US and Russia are currently maneuvering natural gas supply control in Europe.

Though expressing support for Greece’s aspiration to become a regional energy hub, as indicated by his firm backing for the development of projects such as the TAP and IGB pipelines, as well a floating LNG unit in Alexandroupoli, northeastern Greece, all of which will help boost non-Russian gas supply, including American, to Europe, Pyatt made clear the US’s opposition to the development of the ITGI pipeline, planned to transmit Russian natural gas to Europe via Greece and Italy.

The ITGI project is being discreetly supported by the Greek government, DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, and Edison, along with Russia’s Gazprom.

Pyatt also reminded, in a less direct fashion, that the US possesses a number of alternatives to get its LNG to European markets. He made reference to a new LNG terminal in Lithuania, one of the gateways available to the US, along with Turkey – as highlighted by a recent LNG delivery to the country by US LNG trader Cheniere – and Poland, receiving strong US support for a major LNG terminal.

Greece will need American support to develop its LNG terminal plan in Alexandroupoli, part of the strategy that would help transform the country into a regional energy hub.

Not surprisingly, the US ambassador devoted a significant part of his speech at yesterday’s Athens conference to explaining why America believes Russia’s natural gas transmission plans for Europe should not be reinforced by third parties.

Pyatt made numerous references to the EU’s intention to end its heavy reliance on Russian natural gas, noting that this represents a golden opportunity for the US to ship in LNG tankers to the continent. Despite the high expectations, the results have been subdued so far.

Gazprom has already made a move to reserve TAP capacity as part of its natural gas transmission plans to Europe. This initiative has been met with cautious optimism, and, in some cases, approval by TAP consortium members. The Russian energy giant’s initiative has, as expected, provoked a negative US reaction.




Trump challenges OPEC in bid for US energy independence

Two opposing forces are currently impacting the global oil market but offsetting each other’s impact to maintain prices at slightly over 52 dollars per barrel.

On the one hand, an agreement between OPEC members to curb output is being successfully implemented as 1.5 million barrels are already being withdrawn on a daily basis. The agreement’s objective is to reduce production by 1.8 million barrels per day. If fully implemented, the agreement will lead to a global oil production reduction of around 2 percent. On the other hand, the just-inaugurated President Donald Trump’s energy policy promotes increased US shale oil output as a means of ending the US’s dependence on OPEC for energy.

Trump’s “An America First Energy Plan”, just published on the White House website, promises to support a shale oil and gas revolution, which, besides offering energy independence, would boost energy sector employment. According to the plan, the US, sitting on oil and gas reserves worth 50 trillion dollars, will utilize this potential.

Trump’s plan for US energy independence is widely regarded as being overambitious. US production will need to replace current imports amounting to three million barrels per day.

The new US president’s energy plans are not new. A previous Republican administration had sought to reduce US oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent by 2025. OPEC reacted, crucial geopolitical balances were placed at risk, and the plan ultimately failed. A rift between USA and OPEC in the current era is made even more complicated by the need for a partnership to combat terrorism.

In recent weeks, US production has increased by 40,000 barrels per day. If US output continues rising, it will end up offsetting the market impact of OPEC’s policy to curb production. Prices will begin dropping again.

These contravening policies could lead to new war for greater oil market shares. If US output continues to increase, OPEC members could reconsider their decision to limit production and begin pumping out more, which would prompt price reductions.

Analysts forecast a stabilization of prices at a level of between 50 and 60 dollars as the likeliest scenario.

Russian energy minister Alexander Novak yesterday reiterated his support for Trump’s energy policy, noting that Moscow is satisfied by the Trump administration’s elevation of energy matters as a top priority. Novak expressed hope that the US and Russia will soon meet again at the negotiating table.

Gazprom a prime European gas factor, including for DESFA sale

It has become clear that virtually no gas transmission developments in Europe, including the collapsed effort to privatize Greece’s natural gas grid operator DESFA, can be assessed without factoring in the role of Russian energy giant Gazprom.

All companies linked to the DESFA sale ordeal – the candidate buyers Azerbaijan’s Socar and Italy’s Snam, as well as Belgium’s Fluxys, an early candidate whose interest waned before apparently rebounding more recently – are associated with the Southern Corridor, Gazprom’s natural gas supply plan for the European market’s south.

Gazprom is promoting the prospects of “Turkish Stream” and making plans for an additional route, via Greece, for natural gas supply to the EU. The Russian company is making careful and decisive moves to establish agreements for the first route through Turkey and is also engaged in talks with the European Commission for the route’s extension through Greece.

The significance of today’s three-way meeting in Moscow between Gazprom, Edison and DEPA, Greece’s Public Gas Corporation, for talks on the pipeline route through Greece, not long after the DESFA sale’s collapse, cannot be overlooked.

The three sides had signed a Memorandum of Understaning in Rome last Ferbruary and could now sign a more specific agreement featuring greater commitments for the Southern Corridor plan. This project would carry Russian natural gas through the Black Sea, Greece and Italy and would utilize work already carried out by DEPA and Edison as part of the sidelined ITGI Poseidon project.

DEPA and Edison had originally established Poseidon as a joint venture in the previous decade to develop the ITGI pipeline, planned to carry Azeri natural gas from Turkey to Greece and then Italy, via a submarine crossing through the Adriatic Sea. However, the the plan was abandoned after Azerbaijan opted to develop the TAP (Trans-Adriatic Pipeline) project instead for this purpose.

Following the recent collapse of the DESFA sale, Socar rushed to announce that the development would not affect its involvement in the TAP project. The Azeri firm holds a 20 percent stake in the TAP consortium. Socar has not ruled out the possibility of expressing renewed interest in DESFA once a new sale attempt is launched.

Ties between Gazprom and Socar are highly complicated. On the one hand, they are the prime players in rival gas pipeline plans, while, on the other, the two are linked by high-level associations concerning Russian government officials and Socar’s president as well as exchange. Gazprom, for exchaneg, supplies gas to Socar with the aim of bolstering the latter’s cash reserves to avoid technical problems that interrupt Russian gas flow.

Europe taking precautionary measures to avoid cold winter

The European Commission is taking precautionary measures to avoid any natural gas supply issues this winter, expected to be particularly cold.

Last week, Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president responsible for Energy Union, met in Moscow with Russia’s energy minister Alexander Novak. The two officials decided to hold a follow-up meeting, with Ukraine represented, to focus on natural gas and its transportation to Europe.

Sefcovic has stressed that Russia and EU depend on each other when it comes to energy matters. “The EU is a basic export destination for Russian fuels and payments are made on time with hard currency,” Sefcovic pointed out. “The EU wants to continue buying Russian natural gas in the future,” he added.

Just days ago, on November 24, the EU and Ukraine signed a ten-year memorandum of cooperation for a strategic energy alliance, which reinforces an agreement reached between the two sides in 2005.

Greece finds itself at the core of the wider region’s energy developments. Various scanarios being contemplated and discussed include Greek territory or activity by the country’s borders.

The Southern Corridor and LNG supply are high-priority items on the US agenda for the southeast European region. Studies have shown that LNG transportation will eventually overshadow gas pipelines, internationally, in terms of importance. The US is seeking the lion’s share of the LNG transportation market. US President-elect Donald Trump has promised to place emphasis on US exports.

The natural gas market was also a key matter during a recent meeting in Athens between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and US President Barack Obama. Subjects covered by the two leaders included the TAP, IGB and Alexandroupoli LNG terminal, as well as deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.

PPC eyeing ‘partnerships, deals in Russia, Turkey, Middle East’

The main power utility PPC’s international aspirations were highlighted during a speech delivered today by the utility’s CEO, Manolis Panagiotakis, at a Greek-Russian energy conference in Athens.

Panagiotakis, while addressing various European and international developments, pointed out that they stand as challenges of strategic dimension for PPC and “need to be confronted positively and creatively” so that the utlility can make swift achievements in areas where it has failed over many years.

Commenting on the domestic electricity market, PPC’s chief executive stressed that maintenance of a significant proportion of lignite-fired electricity production is necessary for supply security and protection against any international oil price increases.

On the utility’s international presence, the CEO said PPC is seeking partnerships with both local and foreign enterprises, including Russian firms.

He pointed out that PPC’s international aspirations stretch beyond the EU. Neighboring Turkey, whose market is experiencing rapid growth, is a key aspect in this expansion plan, Panagiotakis noted. He added that Iran, a country where opportunities are currently being sought by the utility, as well as Middle East countries are also being looked at for market opportunities.

The conference was held within the framework of the 4th Greek-Russian Social Forum, which, in turn, is part of the wider “2016 – Year of Greek-Russian Friendship” series of events.

Russian FM to to focus on Turkish Stream during Athens visit

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to be in Athens this Wednseday to deliver a speech at an energy conference being held within the framework of the 4th Greek-Russian Social Forum, which, in turn, is part of the wider “2016 – Year of Greek-Russian Friendship” series of events.

The energy ties between Greece and Russia will be at the core of the Russian diplomat’s visit. The energy association between the two countries was established nearly 25 years ago with the development of the natural gas pipeline linking Burgas, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast, with Alexandroupoli, northeast Greece.

More recently, Greece and Russia have discussed development of the South Stream and Turkish Stream pipelines, but neither plan has yet to make progress.

Greece’s energy minister Panos Skourletis, foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, as well as Russia’s deputy energy minister Yanovsky Anatoly, will also deliver speeches at Wednesday’s conference.

The restablishment of diplomatic ties beween Russia and Turkey has rekindled hopes for the Turkish Stream plan, which, if developed, would run from the Greek-Turkish border, through northern Greece, and across the Adriatic Sea to Italy.

Lavrov, who is seeking to put the ball in the court of the European Commission for the project’s endorsement, is expected to seek support from Athens for Turkish Stream’s development. Brussels has remained hesitant.

Turkish Stream, along with the TAP project now in progress as well as plans for the development of LNG facilities promise to elevate Greece’s energy role in the wider region.

Gazprom’s CEO Alexey Miller, seeking to put the spotlight on Brussels, announced today that Turkish Stream’s pipelines, reaching all the way to Turkey, will be ready by the end of 2019.


‘Turkish Stream’ plan rekindled, expectations remain low

Moscow is seeking to revive as swiftly as possible an agreement reached with Greece for Turkish Stream – Russia’s pipeline crossing proposal through the Black Sea to the Greek-Turkish border, an initiative stalled by the Russian-Turkish political crisis – meetings by Greece’s leadership with Russian officials in Thessaloniki on Saturday indicated.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Energy Minister Panos Skourletis held respective meetings with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak.

At these meetings, the two sides reiterated that if Turkish Stream – dubbed Greek Stream for its local segment – makes progress, mixed consortiums would be formed, most probably with DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, included, as had been agreed to in 2015, when the Turkish Stream pipeline proposal was first tabled for discussion.

Bypassing Kiev, and punishing Sofia for having obstructed the construction of scrapped South Stream, the new Turkish Stream pipeline is planned to travel across the Black Sea to the Turkish city of Ipsila, close to the Greek-Turkish border, before a Greek segment runs across Greece’s north to the Adriatic Sea.

Though Greek government officials confirmed that Turkish Stream and its extension through Greece to Italy is a plan on the table, they admitted the chances of it being developed in the near future are minimal. However, Greek officials acknowledged that the recent restablishment of bilateral Russian-Turkish ties does provide some prospects for the project.

Ankara has once again declared a strong interest in the project’s development. It is believed that Gazprom has already been issued initial licenses.

Tsipras, speaking at the Thessaloniki International Fair over the weekend, may have reiterated Greece’s interest in becoming an energy hub of multidimensional energy policies, but it has become clear over the past year, especially since the launch of work on the TAP project last May, that the country’s energy interests are pointed towards the west.

The TAP pipeline, to cross northern Greece as part of the route carrying Azeri natural gas to Europe, via Italy, as well as the prospective IGB Greek-Bulgarian Interconnector, are two key projects being supported by the west, which wants to diversify Europe’s energy sources.

The Turkish Stream proposal reemerged in August when Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave the project the green light.


Liberalized gas trade from Sidirokastro seen as of July 1

Negotiating sides have effectively agreed on the content of an interconnection agreement – to help liberalize natural gas trade – between DESFA, Greece’s natural gas operator, and Bulgartransgaz, the Bulgarian operator, following a marathon meeting in Sofia yesterday.

The agreement’s fundamentals have been decided on, while a final response is expected from Russia’s Gazprom by Friday. If the Russian natural gas giant approves, then the finalized interconnection agreement is expected to be signed within the next few weeks.

Gazprom will need to sign new respective protocols with DEPA, Greece’s Public Gas Corporation, as well as Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz before the interconnection agreement between DESFA, Greece’s natural gas operator, and Bulgartransgaz can be finalized.

DEPA and Bulgargaz currently hold respective agreements with Gazprom through which the two gas companies fully occupy all existing pipeline capacity. This will be changed to also offer Greek-Bulgarian interconnection access to other natural gas trading companies and, as a result, further liberalize natural gas trade.

At this stage, it appears most likely that pipeline capacity at the existing Greek-Bulgarian interconnection will be freed as of July 1. Then, the national gas operators of both countries, DESFA and Bulgartransgaz, will need to extend invitations to interested traders requesting binding reservations for pipeline capacity.

Besides Greek, Bulgarian and Russian officials, yesterday’s meeting in Sofia also involved the participation of European Commission officials.

The agreement, a European Commission requirement, will also ensure uninterrupted flow of natural gas in any direction, depending on the needs of network users.

Just days ago, it was reported that M&M, a wholesale trading venture involving the Mytilineos Group and Motor Oil Hellas, took the initiative to become Greece’s first ever private-sector supplier to receive a natural gas order via a pipeline, from a northern pipeline interconnection in Sidirokastro, on the Greek-Bulgarian border. Reports said M&M has imported small amounts, on a daily basis, since the beginning of this month.

Natural gas imports from new traders are expected to intensify competition and offer benefits to industry as well as households and businesses.





Rosneft’s crude price offer to determine fate of ELPE deal

Last Friday’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Greek refinery ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) and Rosneft, valid for one year with an option for renewal, could create significant prospects for ELPE if the Russian petroleum group offers crude at a fair price.

This detail was not specified in the MOU, signed during Russian president Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit to Greece last Friday and Saturday.

If offered a fair price for crude by Rosneft, ELPE can be expected to make substantial orders. The price issue will be discussed in June by a joint committee to be established by the two sides, when they meet to specify trading arrangements.

Rosneft ranks as one of the world’s biggest and most competitive petroleum groups. It operates based on an extraction cost of less than five dollars per barrel, compared to a level of about 15 dollars registered by many rivals. Rosneft is exploiting an enormous yet relatively shallow deposit in Siberia, which helps limit its extraction costs.

Although ELPE is a peripheral player among giants in the international market, the Greek refinery’s output of 350,000 barrels per day is respectable. Russian companies, like all major players, are seeking trading opportunities throughout the world, including with smaller partners such as ELPE, to compensate for lower oil prices.

The Greek refinery will be supplied crude by the Russian petroleum company to be refined and shipped back to the Russian firm as partial or full payment for the crude supplied. The very same ships delivering Russian crude to ELPE’s facilities will depart loaded with petroleum products refined by ELPE.

The deal is based on a new approach being pursued by ELPE that entails conducting business directly with suppliers, without trader intervention, in an effort to reduce costs.

ELPE managing director Grigoris Stergioulis had traveled to Moscow in April for meetings with highly ranked Rosneft officials, in search of closer trading relations.

No quantitative details seen for today’s ELPE-Rosneft deal

No quantitative details will be specified in a memorandum of cooperation for trading activity between Greek refinery ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) and Russian petroleum group Rosneft, to be signed today as part of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s two-day official visit to Greece.

As was disclosed by energypress this week, ELPE, as part of its new framework of cooperation with Rosneft, will be supplied crude by the Russian petroleum company, which, in turn, will purchase ELPE petroleum products.

The deal is based on a new approach being pursued by the Greek refinery that entails conducting business directly with suppliers, without trader intervention, in an effort to reduce costs.

ELPE has acted likewise with petroleum firms in Iraq, Egypt, and Iraq’s Kurdish territory, which has led to a reduction of crude purchase costs by half a dollar per barrel. The cost-related benefits, of course, would diminish if oil prices rise.

Rosneft’s chief executive Igor Sechin, a close associate of Putin’s, will attend today’s signing of the memorandum of cooperation.

Leading up to today’s agreement, ELPE managing director Grigoris Stergioulis had traveled to Moscow in April for meetings with highly ranked Rosneft officials, in search of closer trading relations.

Three years ago, Rosneft, whose trading activity with ELPE stretches back a long way, had publically expressed an interest – through Valentina Matviyenko, Chairman of the Federation Council, during a news conference – to acquire a stake in the Greek refinery.

Matviyenko, who, at the same news conference, was asked about Gazprom’s withdrawal from an international tender concerning the sale of DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, had responded openly and attributed the disruption to European Commission intervention.

Though the prospect is still at at a premature stage, government officials have not ruled out the possibility of Russian officials retabling their interest in ELPE during the current Putin-led visit. TAIPED, the State Privatization Fund, holds the Greek State’s 35 percent share of ELPE, one of 19 privatizations published in the government gazette just days ago.

Putin, in an article of his published yesterday by Greek daily Kathimerini, implied that Russia wants the EU to treat it on equal terms with European companies.

It is still too early to make any assumptions on ELPE’s prospective privatization, a complicated issue that will take about two years to unravel. ELPE is intertwined with DEPA. ELPE holds a 35 stake in DEPA. The privatization of one depends on that of the other, as was made clear when the country’s previous administration looked at the issue.


No major energy developments expected during Putin’s visit

Developments concerning the energy sector during Russian president Vladimir Putin’s two-day official visit to Greece tomorrow and Saturday will be limited to the signing of memorandums of cooperation on low-priority matters, according to energypress sources.

ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) and Russian petroleum group Rosneft are expected to sign a memorandum of cooopertion. So, too, is CRES, the Center for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving, locally acronymed KAPE, with its Russian counterpart.

As part of ELPE’s new framework of cooperation with Rosneft, the Greek refinery will be supplied crude by the Russian petroleum company. It will be refined, primarily as diesel, and supplied to the Russian firm as partial or full payment for the crude to be supplied.

ELPE signed a similar deal with NIOC, the state-run National Iranian Oil Company. Part of an outstanding amount owed by ELPE to the Iranian company is being settled through the supply of refined petroleum products.

The collaborative effort between CRES and its Russian equivalent will entail the exchange of knowhow on renewable energy source (RES) and energy efficiency issues.

All other matters on the energy front, including natural gas pipeline proposals for the region, will remain quiet during Putin’s visit.

Putin’s agenda for this week’s visit to cover a range of issues

Last time Russian President Vladimir Putin had made an official visit to Athens was in 2007 for the signing of an oil pipeline linking the Bulgarian coastal city of Burgas with Alexandroupoli in northeast Greece. The Russian leader’s next scheduled visit to the Greek capital, this coming Friday and Saturday, will be his first to an EU member state in over a year. According to an official statement released by the Kremlin, matters of bilateral economic interest and investments, including joint energy-sector projects, will be discussed.

Putin will arrive in Greece ten days after the Thessaloniki ceremony held to launch work for the local segment of TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline), a natural gas project that contravenes Russia’s regional energy interests, as it is planned to primarily supply Azeri natural gas to European markets.

Over the past couple of years, Russia has reacted to the TAP prospect by proposing projects to help safeguard its energy supply interests in Europe’s southeast, such as South Stream or Turkish Stream. Moscow will need to come to terms with the idea of energy supply competition in the Balkan and Italian markets as of 2020.

South Stream 2, Russia’s most recent gas pipeline proposal for the region, which, according to its latest version, would utilize an older Greek-Italian ITGI plan for a route across the Adriatic Sea, will be discussed during Putin’s upcoming visit, market officials have informed. However, spectacular developments are not expected as the case is a low-priority item on Putin’s agenda at this point in time. Russia is currently focused on developing Nord Stream, a natural gas pipeline in Europe’s north.

The Russian head’s visit to Athens is expected to focus on bilateral trade prospects, including boosting Greece’s exports to Russia and increasing Russian investments in Greece – if privatization and energy partnership plans in the fields of energy, infrastructure and transportation progress.

Ties between DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, and Gazprom are in excellent shape. The two sides recently completed talks for the renegotiation of gas supply prices, currently at the most competitive level in years.

Russia’s interest in prospective privatizations concerning the Greek Trainose railway company and Thessaloniki port will also be discussed during Putin’s visit.

Rumors have recently been rife in the local energy market about an upcoming announcement for the construction of a new lignite-fired power station in Florina, northern Greece, by a Russian company. This prospect is linked to a pending issue that will offset Greek benefits gained from a favorable older Russian natural gas supply deal. A plan for Russian companies to construct hydropower stations in Sykia and Pefkofyto, alongside the Achelous River in Greece’s northwest, was never carried out as a result of technical problems concerning the river’s dam.

A proposal has been tabled for PPC and Gazprom to join forces and construct a lignite-fired power station in Florina, which would utilize a regional coal mine in Vevi. This prospect is complicated and still at a premature stage.

Announcements on the expansion of existing trading ties between ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) and Russia’s Rosneft could be made during Putin’s visit. The two sides have been engaged in talks over the past month.


Energy issues not a top priority for Putin visit to Athens

Officials in Athens and Moscow preparing the agenda for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to the Greek capital, scheduled for May 28, are not setting energy issues as a top priority.

Naturally, this does not mean that Moscow’s latest natural gas pipeline proposal for Europe’s southeast, intended to cross Bulgaria, Greece and Italy, will not be raised by the visiting Russian delegation. This latest alternative is being viewed more favorably in Europe than last year’s Turkish Stream as it does not pass through Turkey.

Although Athens will reiterate its plans for a multidimensional energy policy, which includes Russia as a source, it will maintain a mild stance to avoid upsetting the country’s lenders and the USA at a critical point in time when their support is crucial amid the effort to complete the first review of Greece’s third bailout package. Support is also needed as a result of the increasing number of Turkish violations of Greek airspace above the Aegean.

As for Russia, the country has other energy priorities, besides the Southern Corridor, such as Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline plan with a 55 billion cubic meter capacity intended to carry natural gas through the Baltic Sea to Germany. The plan, budgeted at 10 billion euros, has divided European opinion.

The leaders of eight European countries in the east – Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Lithuania – clearly oppose an extension of Nord Stream, contending it will increase the EU’s energy dependency on Russia.

Russia is backing the plan, noting it will bypass Ukraine and therefore avoid transit fees as well as political wrangling, which has affected Russian natural gas exports a number of times in recent years.

Considering all the above, Greece and Russia may sign a declaration of mutual cooperation for the energy sector on May 28, which, in actual fact, will not represent anything groundbreaking. Not because both sides are not keen to further develop their ties, but as a result of the political expediency offered to both by restraint, given the current set of respective factors for each.

Over the past eight months or so, the Greek government has redirected the country’s energy interests. It has stepped back from an intention to widen ties with the east and, once again, looked to the west and the US-influenced sphere.

Greece is now focused on the construction of the TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) project, planned to carry 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas, annually, from Azerbaijan to central European countries via Turkey, Greece and Italy, as well as the Greek-Bulgarian IGB interconnector, to connect with TAP’s Greek segment and supply the Balkan region.

Yesterday, DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, announced that nine non-binding bids were made for the first stage of an IGB market test. The development prospects for the IGB pipeline project will be solidified if this level of interest is maintained in the market test’s next stage, when binding offers will be submitted by potential pipeline users.

According to sources, the Russian agenda for Putin’s upcoming visit will include Gazprom interest for establishing partnerships with PPC, the main power utility, as well as commercial trade plans between Russian petroleum giant Rosneft and ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum). Scenarios alleging Gazprom’s interest for a stake in DEPA and Rosneft’s equity interest in ELPE seem far off at this stage.


Energy matters included on Putin’s agenda for May visit

Russian president Vladimir Putin, scheduled to make an official visit to Athens on May 28, will arrive with an agenda to feature energy-sector matters, including an interest for the development of partnerships between Russian firms and PPC, the main power utility.

Assuming the current negotiations on the first review of Greece’s third bailout agreement have been finalized by the time of Putin’s arrrival, the government will no doubt seek to take advantage of the Russian leader’s visit and portray a success story whose dimensions include prospective energy-sector partnerships as well as Greece’s upgraded geostrategic role in the wider region.

Although Russian investment interest in the Thessaloniki port and TRAINOSE, Greece’s railway company, is expected to be reiterated, emphasis will be placed on the energy sector, especially on plans to develop a Russian natural gas pipeline through the region and establish Russian partnerships with PPC.

Moscow is heavily relying on Greece in its effort to serve Europe’s increased natural gas needs. Following the abandonment of the South Stream and Turkish Stream plans, Russia appears to be insisting with a route in Europe’s southeast to run through Bulgaria, Greece, and follow the ITGI submarine route across to Italy.

The Greek government will seek to keep such a prospect open as part of its “multidimensional” energy policy announced shortly after Syriza was elected to power in January last year, despite the fact that the approach runs contrary to an EU direction aiming for reduced Russian energy reliance.

As for the prospective PPC partnerships, Russia’s Gazprom is expected to reiterate an older plan proposed to energy minister Panos Skourletis entailing the acquisition of rights to operate the power utility’s lignite mine in Vevi, which supplies two power stations, Melitis I and II, in exchange for the now-scrapped plan for the construction of hydropower stations by Russian companies in Sykia and Pefkofyto, alongside the Achelous River in the northwest. Prometheus Gas, a joint venture involving Gazprom and the Copelouzos Group, had a leading role in that plan.

Aktor, which had won a previous tender for a licence to operate the Vevi mine and signed an agreement with the ministry that was never ratified in Greek Parliament, could also take part in a consortium for the Vevi mine.

It remains to be seen whether the Greek-Russian discussions will lead to any agreements as financing new projects in the local energy market remains an extremely difficult decision for any investor.

Local officials contemplating Russian request for Vevi mine

Russia’s interest to operate Greece’s Vevi lignite mine close to Florina, northern Greece, as an alternative to offset a stalled plan for the construction of two hydropower stations by Russian companies in Sykia and Pefkofyto, alongside the Achelous River in the northwest, adds a new dimension to a long-running ordeal over the mine’s future.

The request was extended by Russian officials to Greece’s energy minister Panos Skourletis during his visit to Moscow earlier this week as a result of legal complexities concerning the Sykia and Pefkofyto hydropower stations.

Construction of the two hydropower stations by Russian companies had been incorporated into a natural gas supply deal between Greece and Gazprom.

Russian interest in the Vevi mine had also been discussed at a recent Greek-Russian meeting in Athens focused on energy matters. In response, the Greek government said it would form a working group to examine the prospect and decide whether interests in the Vevi mine could be transferred to Russia.

Alluding to the issue, the Greek ministry released a statement yesterday noting that “talks between the two sides on energy matters will continue through the work of joint committee formed recently to also examine pending issues.

Russian officials want to operate the Vevi lignite mine and supply the main power utility PPC’s modern Meliti power station. Thoughts for construction of a new station in the area have not been excluded.

If the plan is to be developed, the mine’s operating rights would be transfered to a consortium of Russian interests, in which Prometheus Gas, a joint Greek-Russian venture operated by the Copelouzos Group and Gazprom Export, would play a leading role. The consortium had been awarded contracts to construct the now-stalled power stations in Sykia and Pefkofyto.

Exactly one year ago, Aktor, a company whose portfolio includes mining, quarrying, construction, photovoltaics, facility and project management activities, emerged as the winning bidder of a tender for the Vevi mine and signed a 15-year leasing deal offering it mining and exploitation rights. However, the agreement was never ratified in Greek Parliament as a result of the snap elections that followed soon after, last January, to bring the Syriza-led coalition into power.

A tender for the Vevi mine was originally launched back in 2006 but was later canceled and relaunched with revised terms.

The Vevi mine, located close to Greece’s northern border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom), in an area plagued by high unemployment, is estimated to carry a lignite deposit of 90 million tons. It is one of two sources supplying the region’s Melitis power station.

Tsipras: Russian advance fee for ‘Turkish Stream’ likely in six months

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, confirming widespread reports that emerged several days ago of a possible advance payment of between three billion and five billion euros for Greece from Russia in exchange for Athens’s support of “Turkish Stream” – Russia’s latest natural gas pipeline proposal for supply to the EU from Europe’s south, via the Greek-Turkish border region – last night noted that the payment could be made later this year, in six months.

The Prime Minister, who offered comments to the “Ston Eniko” program hosted by long-serving journalist Nikos Hatzinikolaou, described the recent negotiations with Russia as extremely successful.

Various media reports, citing unnamed government leaks, emerged last week, claiming an announcement of an advance payment for Greece, for the country’s prospective financial gains through its involvement in the Greek segment of “Turkish Stream”, estimated at between 100 million and 150 million euros per year, was going to be made last week, during Russian Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller’s visit to Athens. But no deal was announced.

“Will it be a bad development if this did not happen now, but happens in six months?” Tsipras questioned during last night’s television interview, countering last week’s local media fallout that condemned the build-up and failure of a deal’s announcement as a “fiasco”.

Elaborating on “Greek Stream”, as the local segment of “Turkish Stream” has been dubbed, Tsipras noted its development would establish Greece as a regional energy hub, while the country would benefit from lower-priced natural gas and, subsequently, cheaper electricity production from power utility PPC. Natural gas trading opportunities would also be presented by the pipeline’s development, the Greek Prime Minister added.

Contrary to media reports presenting Greece’s seemingly warming ties with Russia as a worrying development for the EU, Tsipras, during last night’s television interview, noted that Europe has “responded respectfully, not nervously.” Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias had informed him that the US would make a counterproposal, Tsipras added.

The EU and USA have not embraced “Turkish Stream”, a rival proposal to the TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) project for Azeri natural gas supply to Europe, being developed as part of a wider effort by the EU to reduce its dependence on Russian gas supply.

Tsipras, during last night’s comments, noted that major investment opportunities exist in energy and tourism, adding that the government supports these opportunities as there can be no other way towards economic growth.


‘Greek Stream’ prospects hit by EU charges against Gazprom

Yesterday’s decision by the European Commission to formally charge Gazprom for abusing its dominant market position dampens the development prospects of “Greek Stream”, the local segment of “Turkish Stream”, Moscow’s latest natural gas pipeline proposal for supply to the EU from the south, via the Greek-Turkish border area.

The Brussels decision was reached following a lengthy investigation that concluded the Russian energy giant is imposing geographical restrictions on supply deals with wholesalers and certain industrial consumers in various countries. Gazprom, according to the decision, has also imposed other measures that prevent cross-border natural gas flow.

The European Commission decision was also based on the conclusion that Gazprom is overpricing in five EU member states, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

The Russian company has denied it is implementing a strategy that combines geographical restrictions and overpricing.

The European Union’s Third Energy Package, legislative measures intended to further open up the gas and electricity markets in the EU, is at the core of the European Commission’s ruling against Gazprom.

Based on these latest developents, if “Greek Stream” stands any chance of receiving EU approval, offering pipeline access to third parties will be necessary. Russia did not permit this for its previous proposal, South Stream, which led to its indefinite shelving.

‘Greek Stream’ agreement not reached with Gazprom head

No deal was signed yesterday between Greece and Russia for “Greek Stream”, the local segment of “Turkish Stream”, Moscow’s latest natural gas pipeline proposal for supply to the EU from the south, via the Greek-Turkish border area, but both sides appear determined to work on maintaining the prospect.

Gazprom chief executive Alexey Miller, who met in Athens yesterday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, was obviously extremely conscious of a fresh European Commission threat, announced just hours after his trip to Athens had been confirmed, of imminent sanctions to be imposed on the Russian energy giant over monopolistic practices and overcharging buyers in eastern Europe, based on the findings of an investigation launched in 2011. The legal action may be announced today by the EU’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, leading to consequent penalties worth billions of euros.

Even though the Greek government’s expectations for a “Greek Stream” deal had remained reserved in the lead-up to yesterday’s meeting, a wave of reports, including one stemming from a Syriza party source, claimed Miller would sign a memorandum of understanding in Athens for the pipeline project in exchange for a sum of between three billion euros and five billion euros as an advance payment to Greece for the country’s anticipated pipeline-linked earnings.

Which raises the obvious question as to why the Gazprom head visited Athens in the first place, even though a deal was not going to be signed. His visit could be interpreted as a move intended to make clear the prospective pipeline project remains a priority on Moscow’s agenda. Also, it came as a swift reponse to the Greek Prime Minister’s official visit to Moscow a fortnight ago, the overall underlying message here being that bilateral ties are warming and that a willingness exists to seek a solution for the pipeline’s development.

Earlier this week, Miller, speaking at a Berlin conference, offered a far more daring stance by threatening to interrupt Russian gas supply to the EU following 2019 if the European Commission obstructs “Turkish Stream”.

Following yesterday’s meeting, both sides appeared keen to keep the pipeline’s prospects alive. But it was made clear that plenty of work lies ahead. The prospect of an advance payment to Athens was not even hinted at. “Turkish Stream”, Russia’s alternative to its indefinitely shelved “South Stream” plan, over EU-linked legal complications – the project was planned to bypass Ukraine, cross the Black Sea and reach Bulgaria’s east coast, further north – will require EU approval. Also, prospective gas buyers will need to be secured before any preliminary progress is made.

Miller ascertained yesterday that “Turkish Stream” will be developed in compliance with EU law, noting this was not a concern for Moscow, and that the project would be developed by a Russian-European consortium. “European companies have already expressed interest to participate,” the Gazprom head remarked.

Certain pundits have suggested that Athens may be willing to go as far as to obstruct the development of TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline), the EU-backed rival project to carry Azeri natural gas to the EU via Greece, if the European Commission blocks “Turkish Stream”. This may seem farfetched, but sources noted Greece’s archaeological authority could make life hard for the TAP consortium if it chose to.


Greek official’s 3-5bn euro gas pipeline deal claim denied by Moscow

Greece is set to sign an agreement with Russia, possibly even tomorrow, for the local segment of “Turkish Stream”, Russia’s latest natural gas pipeline proposal for supply to the EU from the south, in exchange for an advance payment of between three to five billion euros, German magazine Der Spiegel has reported, based on an alleged leak made by an unnamed Greek government official.

The prospect was also reported by Greek business newspaper Agora. However, Kremlin representative Dimitry Peskov has already denied that such a deal has been reached.

Greece is running out of time to service major debt repayments and still needs to persuade highly skeptical creditors of a credible reforms plan to secure another tranche of needed bailout funds.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made an official visit to Moscow earlier this month, during which he expressed interest in the development of Russia’s latest natural gas pipeline proposal for supply to the EU via Greece and Turkey. If constructed, it would replace Russia’s preceding and indefinitely shelved plan, South Stream, which would have bypassed Ukraine and crossed the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

According to the reports, Greece will receive an advance payment for anticipated future profit to be generated for the country by the “Turkish Stream” pipeline.

Greek government officials were not available to comment on the Spiegel article, Reuters reported.

Peskov, the Kremlin representative, told Russian business news radio station Business FM that energy cooperation was obviously discussed during the Greek prime minister’s visit to Moscow but “Russia did not promise any financial support because nobody requested it.”

Commenting on the issue, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble noted he would be glad to see Greece sign an energy deal with Russia, while adding that the prospect would not resolve the country’s bailout problems.

Long road still ahead for Turkish Stream’s Greek section

Yesterday’s meeting between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin may have provided a significant first step towards the development of Turkish Stream, Russia’s latest natural gas pipeline proposal for supply to the EU, across Greek territory, but, under no circumstances, means construction activity is now all set to begin.

Both leaders were cautious in their remarks about the project. Putin spoke about examining the possibilities of construction, while Tsipras underlined that Greece will respect EU law.

According to sources, as a first step, Greek and Russian officials will begin holding talks within the current month with the objective of reaching an agreement on the establishment of a company to develop the infrastructure project’s Greek segment.

The following step, if the project is to proceed, will entail arranging funding for the pipeline’s draft plan and preliminary construction studies. At the same time, procedures will need to be launched to secure an Independent Natural Gas System (INGS) licence for the project, as part of the EU Third Energy Package, aiming to make the European energy market fully effective. This license will also recognize the right of access to the pipeline by third parties.

Should the project’s licencing matters be cleared by the European Commission – which was not the case with Russia’s now-shelved previous natural gas pipeline proposal, South Stream, whose route was intended to cross the Black Sea to Bulgaria – then prospective buyers of the natural gas to be carried by the pipeline will need to be found.

The annual capacity of Turkish Stream, planned to bypass Ukraine and reach the Greek-Turkish border area for supply into the EU, is expected to be 47 billion cubic meters, beginning in 2019, when the pipeline’s launch has been scheduled. This new pipeline is planned to cover the natural gas supply needs of countries now served by the TransBalkan System, a pipeline that crosses Ukraine and ends up in Bulgaria and Greece.

If natural gas buyers are found, then final plans for the project will be drafted and construction will commence. It should be noted that construction of one segment, a costly submarine crossing through the Black Sea, has already begun. Initially intended to make up part of the canceled South Stream project, this section will be rerouted to end up further south, in the eastern Thrace region, rather than Bulgaria to the north, as had been planned for the previous project.

Judging by Putin’s reaction at yesterday’s news conference, Russia will not have any objections to Turkish Stream’s Greek section being renamed, as Tsipras pointed out. This segment may be named Greek Stream.

Little was said yesterday on Greece’s request for a Russian revision to a misjudged, by Greece, take-or-pay clause included in an agreement between DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, and Russian supplier Gazprom.

Greek officials overestimated the country’s gas order for 2014 amid the ongoing recession’s weakened demand, which subsequently activated the supply agreement’s take-or-pay clause, resulting in a cost believed to exceed 100 million euros for Greece, if strictly upheld. However, despite the lack of news on the matter yesterday, sources said the penalty will finally not be imposed by Russia. Sources said details on the issue may be announced later this month, when DEPA and Gazprom officials are expected to meet.

Also, no news was offered on a Greek request for a natural gas price reduction by Russia. This prospect appears to be linked to the outcome of Turkish Stream’s Greek section.




Greek, Russian heads agree on pipeline, in compliance with EU

Greece is prepared to examine the financing details concerning the development of the local segment of Turkish Stream, Russia’s latest natural gas pipeline plan for supply to the continent, but will act in compliance with EU regulations and only following agreement with fellow EU partners, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Russian President Vladimir Putting during a meeting today in Moscow between the two heads of state.

Russia’s plan for Turkish Stream entails bypassing Ukraine and reaching the Greek-Turkish border area for supply into the EU. The prospective infrastructure project has emerged as Russia’s alternate proposal to South Stream, which would have crossed the Black Sea to Bulgaria. South Stream was shelved after Russia refused to accept EU law as the project’s dominant legal framework, which adds particular weight to the Greek prime minister’s reference to EU law as a guiding force in the country’s pipeline dealings with Russia.

Both leaders remained subdued in their references concerning prospective bilateral energy ties between the two nations, opting to present the matter as one involving Russia and the EU as a whole, as well as Greece’s obligations as an EU member.

By refraining from making any ambitious remarks on Turkish Stream, the Greek government has opted to place emphasis on making the right preparations that can lead to the project’s feasibility, rather than deliver big words and no eventual action, as has been the case in the past.

The Greek prime minister noted that the topics discussed included promoting energy cooperation between the two countries, as well as strengthening Greece’s role as an energy hub in Europe.

Tsipras pointed out that Greek-Russian ties have been lethargic in recent years, while adding that the time was now ripe to reinvigorate activity between the two nations.

The Russian president confirmed that the pipeline plan for gas transmission to Europe was discussed with the Greek leader, while adding that Greece will serve as a key distribution center in the project. Putin reminded that two-thirds of Greece’s natural gas needs are covered by Russia.

An effort will be made to revive bilateral trade between the two countries to levels achieved prior to the enforcement of international sanctions, Putin noted.

Responding to a journalist’s question on whether specific details on Turkish Stream were discussed, Putin said extensive discussion took place on Greece’s involvement in the pipeline project, adding that it was up to Greece to examine the matter in cooperation with its EU partners.

The Russian president noted that Greece’s participation in Turkish Stream promises to elevate the country’s geopolitical role and generate significant revenues for the state’s coffers.

Tsipras intervened to make clear that the pipeline’s Turkish Stream title would be valid only for its Turkish segment and named otherwise for its section running through Greek territory.

PM to launch tricky political game with Moscow visit

Today’s official visit to Moscow by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras launches a tricky balancing act in which the Greek leader will need to strike an equilibrium between strategically broadening the country’s horizons, financially and in the energy sector, and not prompting side effects in its relations with fellow EU partners.

It will be a difficult task as the attempt entails the risk of transforming the perception of Greece as a geopolitical danger, instead of bolstering the country’s negotiating strength with creditors.

The agenda at today’s meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Tsipras may be all-encompassing, covering all major issues, from the prospect of a bilateral loan agreement for Greece, a reduction of Russian natural gas supply prices, Russia’s lifting of an agricultural products embargo, Russian investments in Greek ports, Trainose, the railway company, and DEPA, the Public Gas Coorporation – all in exchange for Greece’s support of Russia’s latest natural gas pipeline plan to bypass Ukraine and reach the Greek-Turkish border area for supply to the EU.

Russia hopes to begin transmitting 47 billion cubic meters of natural gas, annually, to central Europe through this pipeline. It is considered certain that Putin will seek Greek involvement in the infrastructure project.

Efforts made by Greece in recent years to upgrade the country’s role in supporting Russian supply of oil and gas to Europe have not been embraced by the EU and US, striving to limit Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow. However, regardless of various ongoing maneuverings, officials in Brussels know well that the EU heavily relies on Russian natural gas. If a solution is not found to Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, then the EU will need to find an alternative pipeline supply solution for the 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas it consumes via Ukraine. At present, no other supplier can offer such amounts. Nor do alternative pipelines of such capacity exist.

If the conflict with Ukraine is sustained, Russia will place at risk its gas supply prospects with the EU, the biggest recipient of Russian natural gas. EU consumption of Russian natural gas via Ukraine is worth 20 billion dollars, annually. This explains why Russia is promoting the prospect of Turkish Stream, to avoid Ukraine, a major supply-route problem for Russia. It should be noted, however, that should Russia and Ukraine resolve their differences, the new Russian pipeline plan will no longer be necessary, and, politically, will leave Greece out in the dark.

Putin’s anticipated favors for Greece worrying the west

Russian president Vladimir Putin is expected to make a number of favorable offers to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, including in the energy sector, when the two heads of state meet in Moscow tomorrow.

Putin’s gestures, to emerge at a time when the two countries appear to be establishing closer ties despite the disapproval of EU and US officials, are expected to include a softer Russian stance on a misjudged, by Greek officials, take-or-pay clause included in a natural gas supply agreement that has led to a penalty estimated at over 100 million euros for Greece.

DEPA, Greece’s Public Gas Corporation, overestimated its gas order placed with Russia’s Gazprom for 2014 as a result of lower domestic gas consumption amid the Greek recession, which subsequently activated a take-or-pay clause included in the natural gas agreement between the two sides.

Sources said Putin is prepared to order Gazprom to excuse Greece of this resulting obligation’s entire amount.

The same sources also noted that procedures will also begin for a reduction of Russian gas supply prices to Greece. However, the prospect is being linked to Greece’s support for the development of Turkish Stream, Russia’s latest natural gas pipeline plan to bypass Ukraine and reach the Greek-Turkish border area for supply to the EU. Turkish Stream is Russia’s alternate proposal for South Stream, a stalled plan whose route woute have crossed the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

EU and American officials, currently at odds with Russia over the Ukrainian crisis, as well as the country’s maneuverings for monopolistic energy supply to the EU, have not embraced the Russian plan for Turkish Stream. The Greek Prime Minister’s trip to Moscow promises to produce energy-sector developments of geopolitical significance.

Besides the energy matters, Putin is also expected to lift a Russian trade embargo on agricultural products, an initiative that would release Greek exports worth about 200 million euros.

Greek, Azeri officials maneuver amid latest developments

It can be acknowledged that Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis strongly hinted at Greece’s interest in cooperating with Azerbaijan on energy issues during yesterday’s meeting with the Azeri ambassador to Greece, Rahman Mustafayev.

Indicatively, this was the minister’s first meeting with a foreign diplomat since the newly elected leftist Syriza-led government’s Greek election victory on January 25.

Lafazanis, who has already declared that no energy-sector privatizations will proceed, side-stepped the delayed sale of DESFA, Greece’s natural gas grid operator, to Azeri company Socar by noting that the deal, reached under the previous Greek government, was in the hands of the European Commission, which is currently investigating the agreement over EU competition concerns.

“We will wait for the EU decision before determining our next steps,” Lafazanis reiterated yesterday in comments following the meeting.

Lafazanis expressed support for the TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) project, to carry Azeri natural gas into Europe. Socar holds a twenty percent stake in the TAP consortium. Pundits interpreted his request for more favorable TAP terms for Greece, expressed during yesterday’s meeting, as more of an effort to appear consistent with the Syriza party’s pre-election views than a demand that could complicate procedures in any way.

When asked to comment on whether his interest to improve the TAP terms for Greece meant imposing transit fees, Lafazanis did not elaborate.

On the other hand, Azerbaijan can be seen as addressing both Greece and the European Union when noting that Socar’s eventual stake in DESFA will stand as a sign of confidence for any Greek-Azeri cooperation, as was insinuated by embassy officials yesterday. Socar had agreed to acquire a 66 percent share of DESFA before the European Commission decided to examine the deal. Azeri officials are clearly frustrated by the delay in Brusssels. But, as things have turned out, the new Greek government’s opposition to privatizations will also need to be taken into account by the Azeris.

Lafazanis declared yesterday that he planned to adopt a “multi-leveled and multi-dimensional energy policy”, implying that he will strive to cooperate with both Azerbaijan and Russia. The new Greek government has already expressed an interest for Greek involvement in a new Russian proposal, dubbed Turkish Stream, concerning the development of a pipeline towards Europe that could run across Greek-Turkish border territory.

However, it remains unclear whether maintaining positive ties with both Azerbaijan and Russia is possible. Both the EU and the USA consider Azerbaijan as being a rival to Russia on gas supply to Europe.

Azeri officials have said Socar’s effort to acquire a majority stake in DESFA and Azerbaijan’s development of the TAP gas pipeline project “are linked, but not directly.” DESFA was initially targeted by the Azeris as a means of expanding their operations in the Balkans, by combining Greece’s grid operator with the TAP project to establish a gas hub in the region.

Lafazanis will attend a South Stream conference to be held in Baku on February 12, when a new round of talks with Azeri officials is expected to take place.


Bulk of Greek exports heading to the west

The wider discussion provoked by the Russian embargo on food products from the west has brought back to the fore the issue of Greek exports, which despite displaying positive signs in 2013, have retreated again in the current year, raising justified concerns about the negative trend’s impact on the national economy.

Although talk, in recent days, has focused on the impact of Russia’s wider embargo on Greece’s agricultural goods, the essence of the matter lies in a completely different field, as the majority of Greek exports concern industrial and petroleum-sector products headed for markets of the west, Turkey, as well as the Balkans. And the real problem is that Greece’s total exports figure has been experiencing a steady downward trend in recent years, except for 2013, as a result of Greece’s deindustrialization.

Figures provided by two local bodies, the Panhellenic Exporters Association and the Exports Research and Studies Center (KEEM), signify that the racket concerning the impact of the Russian embargo on Greek products does not reflect reality. Russia ranks as an insignificant export market for Greek products and does not rank among the country’s top-fifteen export destinations, official figures by the two groups showed.

Highlighting this observation, the total annual worth of Greek products exported to Russia, 406 million euro, is less than the value of Russian natural gas Greece imports each year, from Gazprom, estimated at 500 million euro.

The majority of Greek exports head for the west, while Turkey also stands as an important market. Agricultural exports make up just 17% of total Greek exports. Petroleum products are ranked first, closely followed by the manufacturing sector, whose share of Greek exports currently exceeds 40%.

In geographical terms, the greatest amount of Greek exports, in 2013, were absorbed by the EU-15, or member states making up the union until the end of 2003. Greek exports to the EU-15 were valued at 7.9 billion euro, or 29% of the total exports figure, 27.281 billion euro.

The highest-ranking EU-15 recipient of Greek exports was Italy with an 8.9% share worth 2.4 billion euro, followed by Germany, which imported 6.5%, or 1.7 billion euro, of Greece’s total exports, and third-placed UK, whose figures were 967 million euro and 3.5%.

Greece exported 7.4%, or 2.02 billion euro, of its total exports to the EU’s more recent member states, Cyprus ranking first here with 1.13 billion euro, or a 4.2% share.

The Balkan region, not including Turkey, ranked highly with Greek exports valued at 3.6 billion euro, or 13.4%, largely due to exports to Bulgaria, worth 1.39 billion, for a 5.5% share.

Despite the distance, North America remains a major export market for Greece, and is valued at 1.14 billion euro, or 4.2%. Besides the USA, which accounts for 935 million euro of the total, or 3.4%, Mexico, followed by Canada, also stand as major export markets for Greece in this region.

In terms of value, industrial products and fuels make up the majority of Greek exports. In 2013, 39.9% of Greek exports, worth 10.8 billion euro, concerned mining output, fuel, lubricants, and other related products, while 9.9 billion euro, or 36.4%, were made up of industrial products.

Agricultural products were ranked third in 2013 with a 17.4% share valued at 4.7 billion euro. Food products and livestock made up a 13.2% share, beverages and tobacco represented 2.1%, and olive oil and other related products also captured a 2.1% share.

Based on data provided last May, and in terms of market value, industrial exports gained ground in their share of total Greek exports to reach 40.62%, while the share held by agricultural products declined to 16.25%.


Stress test prepared in event of Russian gas flow stoppage

Greece’s natural gas supply security and protection of consumers in the event of a cut-off from Russian supply as a consequence of the ongoing Ukraine conflict was the focus of a meeting on Thursday chaired by the Minister of Environment, Energy & Climate Change, Mr. Yannis Maniatis.

Early in July, the European Commissioner for Energy, Mr. Günther Hermann Oettinger, requested, in a written letter to the Greek minister, a special report by the end of August detailing the outcomes of stress tests based on the event that Russia disrupted its natural gas supply to Greece via Ukraine next winter.

The European Commissioner forwarded similar letters to all the energy ministers of European Union member states that could be affected by a Russian natural gas stoppage.

The Greek ministry’s special report, currently being worked on, intends to outline the repercussions for both the country’s natural gas availability as well as the energy system, overall, should Russian gas supply stop reaching Greece.

“Conducting these stress tests is a necessary preventive measure in the event of a supply disruption by Russia via Ukraine this coming winter,” Mr. Maniatis remarked following the meeting, while noting that both preventive and emergency measures would be included in the report. “We are taking all necessary action to minimize any problems concerning supply security as a result of possible crisis situations. Consumer protection stands as a top priority for the ministry’s leadership,” he continued.

Other participants at the meeting included the ministry’s Secretary General, Mr. Konstantinos Mathioudakis, as well as officials representing RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy; DESFA, the Natural Gas Transmission System Operator; IPTO (locally referred to as ADMIE), the Independent Electricity Transmission System Operator; DEPA, the Public Gas Company; and PPC, the Public Power Corporation.