Putin's Pipeline Bypassing Ukraine at Risk amid Conflict

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

Putin's Pipeline Bypassing Ukraine at Risk amid Conflict


Byline: Bloomberg News

Vladimir Putin's dream of a new pipeline to deliver Russian natural gas to the European Union without passing through Ukraine is fading amid escalating tit- for-tat economic sanctions.

The $46 billion South Stream project, spearheaded by OAO Gazprom, is on hold and will probably remain in limbo for years as Russia continues to foment armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and the EU retaliates with bans, Eurasia Group said.

That means the war-torn country will remain a key transit point for about half of Gazprom's shipments to Europe, according to the New York-based risk research group. The EU previously had mixed positions on South Stream. With Russian troops massing near the Ukraine border, the bloc now has little choice but to stand united in opposition.

"There's no way Europe is going to put South Stream negotiations back on the table now, given the larger geopolitical context of the Ukraine crisis," Emily Stromquist, a Eurasia analyst in London, said in an interview. "That, combined with a number of regulatory disputes about the pipeline and gas deliveries will push back the timeline a number of years."

The proposed 2,446-kilometer (1,520-mile) pipeline would run under the Black Sea and enter the EU in Bulgaria. That would end Gazprom's dependence on the Ukrainian gas-transit system.

While the European Commission had previously voiced concerns that the project was violating the bloc's open-access laws, some EU members, particularly in the south, had openly supported it. That's shifting as Putin's support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine and retaliatory bans on European goods strengthens the 28-nation bloc's resolve to halt the project.

Political Leverage

"Politically it's very difficult for the Commission to support South Stream as this might be seen as depriving Ukraine of its leverage toward Russia," Katja Yafimava, a senior analyst at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, said in an interview. "But equally, it's very difficult for the EC to block South Stream as long as it can't ensure security of supply for its south east Europe members by other means."

The commission declined to comment directly on the pipeline's prospects, and said in an e-mail that all new energy infrastructure investments must adhere to the bloc's laws.

Gas Disputes

Ukraine and Russia have a long history of disputes over gas prices and debt. In 2009, all Russian gas flows through Ukraine were halted for 13 days, leaving southeastern Europe without gas supplies. While Russia has diversified the routes it uses to get gas to the EU, Gazprom still shipped 89 billion cubic meters through Ukraine last year, about 55 percent of its total exports to Europe. …

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