Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Greece and Hungary sign up to Russia gas pipeline

  • The Budapest meeting comes amid Russian attempts to split the EU over Ukraine (Photo: Axel Buhrmann)

Greece and Hungary have endorsed plans for a Russian gas pipeline in the latest blow to EU unity on the Ukraine crisis.

Their foreign ministers, Nikos Kotzias and Peter Szijjarto, as well as counterparts from Serbia, Macedonia, and Turkey added their names to a declaration on the “Turkish Stream” project in Budapest on Tuesday (7 April).

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The text says they “expressed … support to create a commercially viable option of route and source diversification for delivering natural gas from the Republic of Turkey through the territories of our countries to the countries of Central and South Eastern Europe”.

It calls for the EU to co-fund related infrastructure, claiming the pipeline “would … make a significant contribution to the overall energy security of Europe and must therefore be a common responsibility of the European Union”.

It also voices interest in “interconnecting the natural gas infrastructures of our countries with European Union financial assistance”.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin last year in Ankara said he'll build Turkish Stream, a pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey, after the EU blocked construction of South Stream, a pipeline under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

He said Turkish Stream will terminate at a new trading hub on the Greek-Turkish border.

He added that when it’s built, he'll stop supplies to the EU via Ukraine and that if the EU wants the Russian gas it should pay for new infrastructure in south-east Europe.

The European Commission blocked South Stream on grounds it violated EU anti-monopoly laws.

Its former energy commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, also criticised it on strategic grounds, saying it would be inappropriate to take part in the project in the context of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

Its new energy chief, Maros Sefcovic, is equally critical of Turkish Stream, which EU diplomats see as a political project designed to undermine Ukraine and increase EU dependence on Russia.

Hot air?

The Budapest communique underlines that it's a statement of “political intent only, and that further exchange of views and dialogue is needed”.

The Turkish minister, Bozkir, also told Hungarian media that “after the project’s feasibility studies are over, we’ll be able to give it a more qualitative estimate”.

The caveats come amid Turkish scepticism that Turkish Stream will come to be, because Russia lacks money and because its capacity exceeds the region's requirements.

“Frankly, nobody in Turkey is taking it very seriously,” a Turkish source told EUobserver after Putin unveiled Turkish Stream in Ankara last year.

“In the present climate, the Russians feel isolated. So they have the same reflex as the Iranians used to have - to announce some kind of new project with Turkey, and the whole idea is to show they still have international partners”.

EU unity

The Budapest meeting is a blow to EU unity on the Ukraine crisis despite the pipeline’s dim prospects.

Russia is courting Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, and Italy as potential veto-wielders on EU plans to extend economic sanctions before they expire in July.

The Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, is to meet Putin in Moscow on Wednesday, following earlier Putin meetings with Cypriot, Hungarian, and Italian leaders.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told the Tass news agency on Tuesday that Russia might exempt Greece from Russian sanctions on EU food exports.

“We co-operate in agriculture, and we can fix a decline in trade in this sphere linked to the forced introduction [by Russia] of retaliatory measures”, he said.

Nikolay Fyodorov, Russia’s agriculture minister, told Tass that Cyprus and Hungary might also get exemptions.

The Greek energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, said: "I have a feeling that the visit of Alexis Tsipras to Moscow and his meeting with Vladimir Putin may become an important milestone”.

“The new chapter in the development of Greek-Russian co-operation, which will also include the Russian gas pipeline on Greek territory, may bring drastic and very positive changes".

Gazprom chief warns EU on higher gas prices

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller has said the EU's planned energy union will raise the cost of Russian gas and warned that his company will stop supplying gas through Ukraine in 2019.

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