* 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 (Reuters) - 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 Evans)