US energy official Hochstein back in early September

A meeting yesterday between Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Minister Panos Skourletis and US Ambassador to Greece David Pearce essentially served as a prelude to an upcoming visit by Amos Hochstein, the US Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs.

According to energypress sources, the US energy official, who had made an official visit in May, will be back in Athens early September, when real talks are expected to begin.

US officials described yesterday’s meeting with Skourletis, Greece’s recently appointed energy minister, as highly constructive. US reports observed a sharp contrast between Skourletis – who appears to be approaching the country’s energy matters diplomatically and realistically – and his predecessor Panayiotis Lafazanis, head of the governing Syriza party’s radical left faction.

Indicative of the Greek ministry’s new realism, the prospect of a new Greek-Russian gas pipeline – now dubbed the “New European Pipeline” – which would supply the EU via the Greek-Turkish border region, was only touched on during yesterday’s meeting between the US ambassador and Skourletis. For Lafazanis, the former energy minister, the Greek-Russian project stood as a fundamental part of his agenda, as he had stressed at meetings with Pearce and Hochstein.

Both the EU and USA have not embraced the prospect of a new Russian gas pipeline in Europe’s south, the objective being to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

As indicated at recent meetings between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Egypt, as well as during talks between Skourletis and Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak, the Greek government has not retreated from the prospect of exploring the potential offered by the Greek-Russian pipeline. However, the government has acknowledged that the project is just a plan, even idea, which would need to overcome many obstacles and meet numerous requirements, including matters beyond Greece’s control, if it were to be developed. Until recently, with Lafazanis at the helm of Greece’s energy matters, this project was the guiding force behind Greece’s international energy initiatives.

It comes as no surprise that an energy ministry announcement released following yesterday’s meeting between Skourletis and Pearce focused on developments concerning the Western-backed TAP (Trans-Adriatic Pipeline) project, to primarily carry Azeri natural gas to Europe via two EU member states, Greece and Italy, as well as the IGB pipeline to interconnect the Greek and Bulgarian gas systems. No reference was made to the Greek-Russian pipeline plan.

During his previous official visit to Athens in May, Hochtsein had more or less described the Greek-Russian pipeline as a non-existent plan.