As Gazprom CEO Arrives In Athens, EU (Coincidentally) Files Anti-Trust Charges Against Russian Giant

As the head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, arrives in Athens tomorrow (for talks with Greek PM Tsipras about "current energy issues of interest," which we suspect will include finalizing the "Turkish Stream" pipeline heralded by many as Greece's potential get-out-of-Troika-jail-card), he will face an increasingly anxious European Union. Fresh from its suit against Google, the WSJ reports, the EU's competition regulator plans to file formal antitrust charges against Russia’s state-owned gas company OAO Gazprom on Wednesday. This re-opens a suit from 2012 saying that it suspected the company of abusing its dominant position in those countries’ natural-gas supply. It appears Europe is getting nervous...

 

Having realized that a potential Greco-Russian pipeline deal could, according to one senior official "turn the tide" for the debt-stricken country, it appears the imminent arrival of Gazprom's CEO (as Reuters reports):

The head of Russian gas giant Gazprom Alexei Miller will be in Athens on Tuesday for talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, the Greek energy ministry said in a statement on Monday.

 

They are due to discuss "current energy issues of interest," the ministry said. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kuprianov confirmed Miller's visit.

 

During talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this month, Tsipras expressed interest in Greece's participation in a pipeline that would bring Russian gas to Europe via its territory.

Has prompted the European Union to take indirect action... (as WSJ reports)

The European Union’s competition regulator plans to file formal antitrust charges against Russia’s state-owned gas company OAO Gazprom on Wednesday, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday, a step set to escalate the standoff between Europe and Moscow.

 

The European Commission started a formal investigation into Gazprom’s business practices in some eastern and southern European countries in 2012, saying that it suspected the company of abusing its dominant position in those countries’ natural-gas supply. The bloc’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said in February that she was ready to file formal charges against Gazprom “relatively short time span.”

 

A person familiar with the commission’s case against Gazprom said that the charge sheet, known as a statement of objections, against the company has been put on the agenda of the commission meeting on Wednesday and that no resistance was expected.

 

A person familiar with Gazprom said that the company had signaled its willingness to settle the case to the commission as recently as last week. Formal settlement talks broke down last year after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.

 

With the charges, Ms. Vestager is escalating another antitrust case against a major company in a big country just one week after the commission filed formal charges against U.S.-based Google Inc. The case against Gazprom could potentially result in multibillion euro penalties against the company.

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As a reminder, the possibility of a "Turkish Stream" pipeline, could kill two birds with one stone for Putin:

  • Following the death of the South Stream, whereby the EU pressured Bulgaria to refuse passage of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe, Russia needed an alternative route of bypassing Ukraine (and Bulgaria) entirely, something which according to Kremlin's plan should happen over the next 3 years. And with Hungary and Serbia all eager to transit Russian gas to the Austrian central european gas hub, Greece was the missing link for a landline transit. With this agreement, Russia gets the green light to extend the Blue Stream all the way to Austria and preserve its dominance over the European energy market while leaving Ukraine in a completely barganining vacuum.

 

  • Perhaps just as importantly, suddenly Russia will energy as the generous benefactor riding to Greece's salvation, in turn even further antagonizing the Eurozone and further cementing favorable public opinion. As a reminder, several weeks ago we showed that Russia already has a higher approval rating among the Greek population thatn the Eurozone. In this way, Russia has just won a critical ally for the very low price of just €5 billion, without even having to restructure the entire Greek balance sheet should Greece have exited the euro and been attracted to the Eurasian Economic Union. Which also means that all future attempts to impose further sanctions on Russia by Europe will fail thanks to the Greek veto vote.

Ironically, it was none other than Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schauble who said the Greeks are free to pursue deals with Russia and China as they rush to avoid an impending bankruptcy. Turns out the Greeks decided to do precisely as the German suggested, and the outcome will certainly not be to Germany's liking... and so now the EU is retaliating.