* Russian state railways interested in buying Greek
Trainose, chief says
* Russian Railways to invest at least 100 million euros
* Russian foreign minister Lavrov in Athens to mend
relations after Gazprom fiasco
By Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, Oct 30 Russia's train monopoly RZD
is prepared to invest at least 100 million euros
($137.71 million) in Trainose, the Greek rail operator slated
for privatisation, RZD chief Vladimir Yakunin said on Wednesday.
Yakunin's statement confirms Russia's state railway monopoly
as one of three possible suitors for Trainose, which Athens is
selling to comply with the terms of its international bailout.
A source close to the talks told Reuters in September that
RZD has teamed up with Greek building group GEK Terna
to consider a Trainose bid. French train operator SNCF
and Romania's Grampet Group have each also handed in initial
expressions of interest.
RZD and GEK Terna are also jointly eyeing Greek rolling
stock operating company ROSCO in a race that may pit them
against Germany's Siemens and French power and
transport engineering firm Alstom.
"We are particularly interested in Trainose," Yakunin told
Greek television station Alpha. "We want to invest a lot of
money if we're absolutely sure that the (Greek) government will
back us," added Yakunin, one of the oldest allies of Russian
President Vladimir Putin.
Asked to comment on the size of the possible investment,
Yakunin said: "I can definitely say that it would be an amount
of 100 million euros." His statements were translated from
Russian into Greek by the Greek television station.
Russian Railways carries freight and about 1.3 billion
passengers a year across the world's largest country. It
accounts for about 2.5 percent of Russian gross domestic product
and employs more than 950,000 people.
Trainose operates 300 routes on 1,500 kilometres of
railways, annually carrying 15 million passengers and 4.5
million tonnes of freight. After radical downsizing, it returned
to a profit of less than 300,000 euros last year after losing
33.6 million in 2011.
Selling state assets is a central condition of Greece's
240-billion EU/IMF bailout. Greece has signed privatisation
deals worth 3.9 billion euros since June 2011 and has so far
cashed in about 2.6 billion of that money. That is far below the
22 billion euros it was planning to collect over that period
under the terms of its first EU/IMF bailout in 2010.
Yakunin was speaking during a state visit to Athens by
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov's visit aimed at improving the two countries'
relations which had cooled earlier this year, when Russian
energy giant Gazprom surprisingly decided to drop a
bid for Greek natural gas firm DEPA in a move that derailed
Athens' privatisation plan and embarrassed its government.
The DEPA fiasco and other delays have caused Athens to lower
for a second time its 2013 privatisation revenue target to 1.3
billion euros, half the amount originally targeted.
But Russia has helped revive Greek tourism, with the number
of Russian visitors jumping by almost 50 percent in the eight
months through August.
"We thank you very much for the one million Russian visitors
this year and we hope it will be two million in 2014," Greek
President Karolos Papoulias told Lavrov.
Russian visitors accounted for 11 percent of Greece's total
tourism receipts of 8.7 billion euros between January and
August. This is more than twice the share they had in 2010.
(Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; editing by David