Putin’s gas pipelines and Ukraine



Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

On December 1, 2014, during his visit to Turkey, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly announced the suspension of the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline and the launch of a new project — the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. On September 11, 2015, Turkey’s Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Sefa Sadık Aytekin announced that consultations on the implementation of the ambitious project have been frozen. In reality, this phrase means the end of the Turkish Stream due to the “mutual distrust of the parties.” Now Russia is trying to force through the second phase of North Stream (gas pipeline from Russia across the Baltic Sea to  Germany — Ed.).

When Putin announced the launch of Turkish Stream, most observers immediately commented on the project’s lack of professionalism and feasibility. This gas pipeline could never become an alternative to the Ukrainian gas transit system. It literally went nowhere. Russia required the recipients of Russian gas to build their own pipelines (!) from the Turkish border. This kind of construction was not envisioned by any Gazprom contract, but this is not something Putin wanted to hear! This is why he has been literally obsessed with the idea of “bypassing” Ukraine and why he believes this is his main lever of pressure on the Ukrainian state.

However, the gas pipeline histories also have their positive aspects. The rejection of the South Stream pipeline project turned out to be a “cold shower” for the countries that were defending this project and who were loyal supporters of Russia — Serbia and Hungary. After this development it became easier to discuss sanctions against Moscow with Budapest. And Belgrade has accelerated the process of negotiations regarding its own European integration. The Serbs and Hungarians have discovered that Putin can “drop them” at any moment.

As a result of the Turkish Stream affair, relations between Russia and Turkey and the personal relations between Putin and President Erdogan have cooled considerably. Ankara was expecting significant compromises upon reaching an agreement on the pipeline construction, but found no understanding on the other side. Greece has become another victim. Putin was negotiating with the then prime minister Tsirpas about extending the gas pipeline across the country. The Greeks were already counting dividends and beginning to view the project as an important source of money for the treasury. Given Greece’s current situation, this was very important. But nobody even informed Athens that the project was being dropped. This was also true with Skopje. The Macedonian Republic was to become an alternative route, replacing Bulgaria. Negotiations with the Macedonian government began during a politically tense period. Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused the West of trying to destabilize the situation in Macedonia with the goal of preventing the construction of Turkish Stream. But later it was through the efforts of Western mediators — the same Victoria Nuland, by the way — that the Macedonian political crisis was resolved. And no construction of anything ever took place.

The construction of a new branch of the North Stream — illusory for now — has damaged Russia’s relations with yet another of its allies in the European Union — Slovakia. Recently, during negotiations with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk in Bratislava, the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fitso chose not to comment on Russia’s intentions. This means that yet another country would not be opposing sanctions. Putin is building a scaffold with his own hands.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych

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