ATHENS, Greece, March 19 (UPI) -- Russian state-owned energy firm Gazprom says it's considering bidding for Greek counterpart DEPA as cash-strapped Athens seeks to sell state assets.
Greece announced last month its Public Gas Corp. would be put on the auction block as part of the debt-burdened country's efforts to raise $25 billion through the sale of government-owned property -- a condition of its European bailout package.
Also being put up for sale is the Greek gas pipeline operator DESFA. Together the sale of the gas infrastructure could generate as much as $2.6 billion.
About 20 companies are expected to make bids by Thursday with a final selection to be revealed in early August.
As expected, Gazprom is among those expressing interest. The company said Friday Chief Executive Alexei Miller and Dimitrios Kopelouzos, his counterpart with Greek partner Prometheus Gas, "discussed the possibilities for Gazprom Group to take part in Greek DEPA Group privatization through a bidding procedure."
Miller and Kopelouzos "addressed the prospects for Russian-Greek cooperation deepening in the energy sector," the statement said, including "the current status and the outlook for the Greek gas market."
Gazprom's interest in acquiring DEPA could be part of a strategic move to influence the development of a Southern Corridor gas conduit connecting Europe with the vast reserves of the Caspian Sea -- a move aimed at lessening the European Union's dependence on Russian supplies.
The Southern Corridor aims to tap up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and other possible sources to provide the EU nations with more stable and cheaper alternative to Gazprom.
The buyer of DEPA could exert a big influence of over its development, analysts say.
Under some of the proposals, the Southern Corridor route would run through Greece -- as could Moscow's own entrant in the region, South Stream. That competing plan would send Russian gas to Europe under the Black Sea, bypassing Ukraine, used in the current supply route, as a transit nation.
Other likely bidders for DEPA and DESFA include Italy's Eni, which has worked with Gazprom in the South Stream effort, as well as the main Southern Corridor supplier, SOCAR, the state oil company of Azerbaijan, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The newspaper said liquefied natural gas supplier Sonatrach of Algeria and other European utilities would also likely be part of the process.
Not, however, among the bidders will be German utilities E.ON and RWE, which told the Journal they don't have interest in either of the Greek assets at a time when they have been hampered by Germany's move to ramp up its exit from nuclear energy.
The indication of Gazprom's interest came less than two weeks after a high-level meeting between its vice president, Alexander Medvedev, and Greek Energy Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou in Athens.
Also present were DEPA Chief Executive Haris Sachinis and Kopelouzos, the Prometheus Gas chief, Athens daily Kathimerini reported.
The energy ministry said the privatization program was a topic of discussion, as was the spike in Greek demand this winter caused by a prolonged cold snap.
That meeting came after the DEPA-backed Southern Corridor entrant -- the Turkey-Greece-Italy pipeline -- was eliminated a preferred alternative by the SOCAR-led Caspian Sea supplier consortium.