September 17, 2013
These couple of days the Vice President of the Russian Federation Mrs. Valentina Matvienko is paying official visit to capital Athens. Her visit coincides with sort of thawing of bilateral relations after a short period of turbulences and insecurity in terms of the economic impact and with respect to Gazprom’s firm intention to buy the shares of Greek Natural Gas Company. The general image expressed by Greek mainstream media was that the Russians had decided to withdraw their offer, giving the possibility for the Azeris of SOCAR to buy Greek gas. But this is not the entire story, as we will analyze afterwards. Meanwhile, the Greek PM Mr. Samaras had launched an official petition against Gazprom and President Mr. Putin, asking to lower its prices of imported gas that, according to official estimations, it is 30% more expensive than the European average.
The visit of Mrs. Matvienko was also crucial for catching a different and more solid momentum in bilateral relations than the current damaged one, especially after President Putin’s publicly expressed concerns and kind of annoyance over Russian entrepreneurs that prefer to invest in Greece rather than in Russia. Needless to say that his statement was vaguely interpreted by the Greek side, with some commentators stressing out that behind his words Putin’s intention was to re-negotiate investments and economic implication in Greece from a more profound and prolific perspective after the failure of the long-expected buy out of Greek Gas Company.
Kremlin is indeed very interested in investing in the Greek public infrastructures network, with their interest being primarily centered around the privatization of Thessaloniki port, and the purchase of the railroad company. For the Russians both sectors are considered as of paramount importance as both investments can literally increase the influence of Russian commerce in Europe and help depict the image of Greece as a source of investment and an outward economy that despite serious and deep economic difficulties still remain a place for considerable development and growth. Notwithstanding, the Greek government has embraced Russia’s interest, and this strategic choice, I have to admit, is also endorsed by the front opposition.
Concerning the failure of the negotiations over the purchase of the Greek Natural Gas Company, Mrs. Matvienko stressed out that the agreement was weirdly impeded by external factors, leaving space for rumors. These “external factors” can be namely the European Union and/or the United States. If this is the case, there are various explanations.
Regarding the European Union – and especially the Eurozone and the European Central Bank- somebody could possible come to the conclusion that both bodies do not want a direct implication of Russia in Greece, given that such an implication could trigger geopolitical imbalances in the entire region and bring Russia closer to monopolizing the energy supply. Russia is the most powerful geopolitical power of the region, encompassing the Mediterranean, and such an involvement of Kremlin in investment plans could bring serious antagonism over European companies and trusts that might have planned to invest in Greece, and especially in the abovementioned sectors.
Regarding the United States, things might seem more clear, as there is always the long-held competition between US and Russia in anything that has to deal with commercial, economic, political or diplomatic impact over third parties. It is also vital to point out here that the concerns of the Americans are literally lied on the fact that Greece is member of the NATO, as well as a country with significant geopolitical position in the respective region. A possible and deep-rooted involvement of the Russians in Greek economy could trigger a new political alliance between Greece and Russia in wider issues, a fact that the United States would not aspire to see develop.
At the end of the day, there is a really interesting diplomatic game developed in the region, with Greece being a fundamental part of it. Especially now that the Greek government, being pressed by the troika, is in the way of privatizing focal areas of public interest in quest of funds and money in order to avoid another bailout plan which, in contrast with official statements, I believe it is likely to get established.Dimitris Rapidis