Russia's fifth-largest oil firm, Gazprom Neft, has become the first potential bidder to express interest in buying a stake in a Greek refiner that is being put up for sale by its cash-strapped government.
Under a privatisation plan agreed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund, Athens is seeking buyers for its 35.5% stake, worth €630m (£520m), in Hellenic Petroleum.
"We are looking into the possibility of acquiring this asset. There are two decent plants with comparatively high capacity and quite high refining depth," said Gazprom Neft chief executive, Alexander Dyukov. His firm is part of the vast Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom, which has already said it might buy Greek natural gas company DEPA. Hellenic owns 35% of DEPA and has already stated it will not buy out the gas business.
Last month Greece's top privatisation official said stakes in Hellenic and another major listed company, gambling monopoly OPAP, would be up for sale by May to boost a much-delayed privatisation plan.
The wealthy Greek Latsis family, which owns 41% of Hellenic as well as extensive banking interests, has first refusal on the government stake but has not yet said if it will exercise its rights.
Hellenic operates across the Balkans and the biggest part of its profit still comes from Greece, even though fuel consumption has been hit by tax increases to shore up battered public finances.