ATHENS – Italy, which recently assumed the rotating six-month Presidency of the European Union, will try to restore a partnership approach with Russia given that the latter is an important gas supplier, Italy’s Ambassador to Greece Claudio Glaentzer told New Europe on July 4.
“Russia is a big producer of gas. We need gas,” he said. “The relations between Italy and Russia have always been very strong. Of course, the problem with Ukraine has to be tackled. But the main point is that we can talk to each other,” Glaentzer said on the sidelines of a conference at the European Parliament Office in Athens outlining the Italian EU Presidency priorities.
Glaentzer said he hopes the Italian Presidency will not have to deal with another gas crisis during this winter. “I hope not. Otherwise we’ll have to cut our trees to warm ourselves,” he quipped.
Latvia’s Ambassador Ivars Pundurs to Athens, whose small country will assume the EU Presidency on January 1, 2015, told New Europe at the same conference that he does not foresee a gas crisis this winter. Pundurs stressed that Latvia has increased its natural gas storage capacity.
However, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on his Facebook page on July 2 that a full-blown gas crisis between Moscow and Kiev will develop by autumn, after Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Ukraine over unpaid bills in June. “Ukraine is not paying for gas. The debt is huge. They take gas from underground storage. By autumn there will be a full-blown gas crisis,” Medvedev wrote.
Russian gas flows to Europe via Ukraine have so far remained stable in spite of the row between Ukraine and Russia over prices.
Rome, which is satisfied with the preceding work of Athens at the EU helm, has highlighted the importance of energy efficiency and energy security.
During its current EU Presidency, Italy could help unblock the process for the implementation of the planned South Stream gas pipeline, easing EU Commission legal concerns about the Russian-backed project, Alexander Kornilov, a senior oil and gas analyst at Moscow’s Alfa Bank, told New Europe by phone on July 4.
Rome believes that South Stream, which is bypassing Ukraine, is one of the strategic projects in Europe that meets the objectives of diversification of transit routes and infrastructure to boost EU energy security. “It’s really pleasant from Gazprom’s prospective that Italy supports its initiatives in regards to the South Stream pipeline,” Kornilov said, adding that Italy’s role is particularly important in the construction of the pipeline, especially Italy’s ENI, which holds a 20% stake in the consortium that will construct the underwater part of the pipeline.
Kornilov reminded that the Italian gas market is very competitive because it has access to gas from Northern Africa as well as from the Netherlands and the UK. Italy will also get some Azerbaijani gas once the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is completed, he added.
“But Italy does realise that it does need Russian gas despite the fact that they are going to diversify substantially their gas supplies,” Kornilov stressed. “That is why they’re so much interested in that project. And the fact that they realise that, is a real positive for the prospects of South Stream.”
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