Cyprus: natural gas reserves and banks to Russia in plan B

Alternatives mulled in exchange for aid after rejection of EU bailout

20 March, 20:05

Cyprus Finance Minister Michael Sarris visits Moscow Cyprus Finance Minister Michael Sarris visits Moscow

(ANSAmed) - NICOSIA - Russia's interest in the vast underwater natural gas reserves off Cyprus and the acquisition of several banks on the island may be part of the plan B the Cypriot government was drawing up Wednesday.

After the country's parliament rejected a controversial EU bailout plan which was to include a levy on bank deposits Tuesday evening, the attention has shifted to Cypriot authorities, who are expected to present an alternative bailout proposal to the EU. The bank levy - which would have hit most of the approximately 80,000 Russian nationals living on Cyprus, and especially the millionaire accounts of several Moscow oligarchs possibly involved in mafia-related business and money laundering - would have brought 5.8 billion euros to Cyprus's coffers, which would then have been added to the 10 billion promised by the EU-IMF-ECB troika.

After the plan's rejection, alternatives are now being sought - even in Moscow. Finance Minister Michalis Sarris has been in the Russian capital since yesterday evening for talks with his Russian counterpart Anton Siluanov in the attempt to get a five-billion-euro loan as well as a five-year extension and lower interest rates for a 2.5-billion loan received two years ago. Speculation has been making the rounds the entire day in Nicosia on the sale to not-better-identified ''Russian investors'' of the Marfin Laiki Bank, though government spokesman Chrystos Stilianidis lost no time denying it.

With regard to the gas fields, local analysts say that Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis was also in Moscow on Wednesday. The two ministers are officially in the Russian capital to attend a tourism trade fair, but several sources say they may meet with Gazprom executives to discuss possible interest in Cyprus's natural gas. Recently a Gazprom high-ranking official had said that the company was not interested in providing financial assistance to the Cypriot government in exchange for exploration rights for the immense gas field discovered two years ago off the island's coast.

Cypriot authorities say that the field may contain between 140 and 230 billion cubic metres of gas. (ANSAmed).

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