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Portnikov: The break in Putin’s pipe

Ceremony to launch Turkish Stream gas pipeline on January 8, 2020 in Istanbul (L-R): Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov, Vladimir Putin, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic. (Photo:
Ceremony to launch Turkish Stream gas pipeline on January 8, 2020 in Istanbul (L-R): Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov, Vladimir Putin, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic. (Photo:
Portnikov: The break in Putin’s pipe
Translated by: A. N.

According to the organizers of the commissioning ceremony of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, the participation of Vladimir Putin was to demonstrate the effectiveness of Russian efforts to create new transit gas pipelines that would allow European countries to receive gas without traditional intermediaries – specifically, without Ukraine, of course.

However, this pipeline is no success for Putin, but rather his defeat. The first branch of the Turkish Stream, through which Russian gas will be supplied to Türkiye (and at a significant discount), is all that remains of the original idea of ​​the South Stream with its four export branches. Yes, the Turkish Stream will be further developed, but only one branch will be completed for gas export to southern Europe. Just one more, not three more. And at the same time, the new European Union rules will apply to this new gas pipeline. Russia agreed to this, even though at one time it was precisely because of Bulgaria’s intention to adhere to these rules that Russia curtailed the construction of the South Stream.

But the main thing, of course, is not this. And the fact is that, according to Putin’s plan, the construction of two pipelines–the Nord Stream 2 and the Turkish Stream–was supposed to be completed before the end of last year, when the Russian-Ukrainian gas transit agreement was expiring. In that case, Moscow could have completely abandoned the use of the Ukrainian pipeline, blackmailed Kyiv with the disappearance of gas transit revenues, and been much less constrained if it were necessary to begin intensive military operations on the territory of Ukraine.

None of these plans was implemented. Nord Stream 2 has not been completed yet. The end of its construction is blocked by US sanctions. In the Turkish Stream project, only the branch to deliver gas to Türkiye was built. And what’s important – all new gas pipelines may not transfer gas at their 100 percent capacity, per the European Energy Directive.

Under these conditions, Gazprom still had to conclude a new long-term agreement with Ukraine’s Naftogaz to continue the transit of Russian gas.

The only thing Putin could do is to use the weakness and inexperience of the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to ward off the threat of new Ukrainian lawsuits against Gazprom. If Kyiv had not exchanged these lawsuits for the three billion dollars Zelenskyy’s government needed “yesterday,” they could have simply ruined that Kremlin’s “purse.”

An agreement with Zelenskyy on gas is, of course, both the achievement and luck of Putin, who brilliantly utilized the degradation of Ukrainian society and its dependence on pro-Russian oligarchic TV propaganda to get to the agreement. But this is not at all what Putin wanted. The Russian gas transit was not taken away from Ukraine, and the country did not end up in his pocket. And all that remains in this situation for him is just to pretend being successful and to hug Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who used Putin’s miscalculations to get a personal pipeline of Russian gas on the cheap.

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Translated by: A. N.
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