Source AP ©

Energy cooperation between Russia and Greece deepens

Deepening energy cooperation between Russia and Greece is expected to yield significant results soon in both the natural gas and oil sectors.

Greece's Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said the two sides were expecting to finalize an agreement shortly on a long-term extension of a contract to supply Russian natural gas to Greece.

"We are on a good road. In the coming period we expect to have a text for an inter-governmental agreement," Sioufas said.

He was speaking after meeting with Russian Industry and Energy Minister Victor Khristenko, who later also met with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

In April, OAO Gazprom chief Alexei Miller and Sioufas said the two governments were aiming to finalize a deal by year's end that would run to 2040. The current agreement lasts until 2016.

The ministers also cited progress in a project to pipe Russian oil from Bulgaria to Greece.

Both men signed in March an agreement providing for construction of the 280-kilometer (175-mile), EUR1 billion (US$1.35 billion) Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, designed to bypass the congested Bosphorus Strait.

The Greek parliament and the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, have ratified the pipeline agreement and the two countries have also defined the companies that will be participating. Bulgaria is expected to act very shortly, Sioufas said.

In early June participating companies from Bulgaria, Russia and Greece are expected to meet in Moscow to thrash out details on constructing and exploiting the pipeline, he said. The companies are to set up an international construction and management company for the project.

Russia has majority control over the pipeline the first to be built in Europe in 40 years  with OAO Rosneft, pipeline monopoly Transneft, and a subsidiary of state-controlled gas giant OAO Gazprom sharing a 51 percent stake. Greece and Bulgaria hold 24.5 percent apiece.

Sioufas also hailed the "exceptional level of relations" between Greece and Russia.

Khristenko's visit to Greece comes just ahead of Greek President Karolos Papoulias' state visit to Russia that begins on Wednesday.

European leaders have expressed unease over Russia's growing control over fossil fuel supplies to Europe. Earlier this month Russia announced a deal with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan that would funnel more central Asian energy supplies across Russian soil, a blow to U.S. and European hopes of diverting supplies away from the Russian pipeline network.

Russia already supplies some 80 percent Greece's natural gas imports and is also a significant oil supplier to the EU member state.

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