Ilian Vassilev: No-One in Greece Intends to Snub EU over Russia
Novinite has asked Ilian Vassilev, a former Bulgarian ambassador to Moscow, to comment on the latest developments regarding the "Turkish Stream" pipeline and Russia-Greece relations.
In the last years Vassilev has been a Managing Partner at Innovative Energy Solutions, which describes itself as a leading Eastern European professional services advisory firm, "supporting investors and companies in the energy sector". In local media outlets, he has been notable for his comments about Russia's big-scale oil and gas projects involving Bulgaria and other countries in the region.
Apart from underlining the participants' keenness to cooperate, was there another aim behind the April 7 energy meeting of Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Greece and Hungary - for instance to send a message to the EU and Russia?
There is no doubt that the denominator of the meeting was the connectedness or rather the intention of the countries to participate, each one according to its own capacities and interests in the allocation of Russian gas flows under the "Turkish Stream" project. This was the message to the EU as well: that apart from Brussels there is another level of forming EU policies uniting member states and membership candidates. But don't look for a deeper meaning: the Budapest meeting was a link in the Kremlin's information-hybrid war and was aimed at setting the stage for the visit of [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras to Moscow.
Does the prospect of securing funding for "Turkish Stream" on behalf of Russia, as Russian President Putin hinted during his talks with Tsipras, make the project more likely to be carried out?
The Kremlin is repeating the same mistakes it made with South Stream. The problem is not so much about financing as compatibility of Russian intentions with EU rules. Look at what Turkish officials say, the same Turkey that sent its representative to the meeting in Budapest. It was precisely on the day of the "friends of Gazprom" meeting in the Hungarian capital that it confirmed its official position: whether "Turkish Stream" will happen depends on Brussels.
How do you find comments, including among Bulgarian politicians, that Bulgaria risks being left out, given neighbors' steps to carry out the project?
As our clumsy attempt at self-denigrating ourselves, and also an attempt of some politicians to deserve a "red point". We are in fact recipients of Moscow's politics without being able to change it. We are neither halting Russian tourists nor food and supplies exports to Russia. In fact the real pain of those who, though being a day late, sparked tension through the media about Bulgaria being "circumvented", is that the lack of energy flow from Russia also brings about no "smaller flows" to parties, organizations and politicians sympathetic to the Kremlin. And the neighbors are already "in for a win", those people keep saying. The only thing such people could do is continue the tradition of [Bulgaria's longest-serving Communist ruler] Todor Zhivkov and try to convert their ostentatious loyalty to Russia into a source of revenues. I am not arguing there are no other angles of list in Bulgaria's politics, but the strongest inertia is toward that direction. This is where the political class has the most sustainable reflexes.
Some media outlets wrote after the Greek PM's visit to Moscow that Tsipras is leaving "empty-handed". Do you agree?
Neither Putin nor Tsipras hold any illusions as to what one of them could give and what the other could take. In such cases the usual phrase from press communiques is valid - "the two sides have met and have agreed to go on meeting in the future".
What is your interpretation of mixed signals from Putin and the Russian government about the lifting the ban on EU food imports? Russia's Agriculture Minister said earlier this week that an exemption of certain EU states from the scope of the embargo is being considered, while Putin told Tsipras the ban cannot be dropped for a single country...
As I said, when no moves can be made with regard to lifting the ban on food imports, they keep things in suspense to try to derive some (albeit indirect) political benefits. They argue it is being discussed, studied, someone intends and another one shares it. Nothing in particular. In the current situation they merely have no right move to make, since the destruction of Europe, which is a goal Moscow has declared, is too high a price even for Russia's biggest sympathizers in Europe. Tsipras is looking for the best deal for the Greek political elite, but no-one in Greece is seriously intending to turn its back on the EU to develop relations with Russia.
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