Russia Cancels South Stream Citing European Opposition

The pipeline’s cancellation is hardly an economic loss for Russia. It was always a political project.

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey deliver a news conference in Ankara, December 1
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey deliver a news conference in Ankara, December 1 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Russia’s Gazprom has canceled construction of the South Stream pipeline due to European opposition.

“The project is closed. This is it,” the company’s chief executive, Alexei Miller, told reporters.

Miller’s announcement came after President Vladimir Putin said Russia could not carry on with the project if the EU was opposed to it.

“We think this is against Europe’s economic interests and is causing damage,” he said during a visit to Turkey.

Trade war

Planned for completion in 2018, South Stream was supposed to pump Russian gas to Bulgaria’s Black Sea port of Varna before extending overland through Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia.

The $40 billion project looks to be the latest victim of the European-Russian trade war that started earlier this year when Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. The European Union and the United States responded by imposing economic and financial sanctions.

Competing pipeline

But the EU had been uneasy about South Stream for longer, planning to construct a competing pipeline, Nabucco, from the Caspian Sea through Turkey into southeastern Europe.

Last year, Nabucco died when gas supplier Azerbaijan chose to participate in the Trans Adriatic Pipeline instead, a joint venture between Switzerland’s Axpo, Norway’s Statoil and Germany’s E.ON companies.

European companies were also heavily involved in South Stream. France’s EDF, Italy’s Eni and Germany’s Wintershall had partnered with Gazprom to build it while Germany’s Siemens was contracted to supply the control systems.

That did not stop the European Commission from leaning heavily on prospective partner countries, notably Bulgaria, to suspend their participation in the project after Russia invaded Ukraine in March.

Political

South Stream’s cancellation is hardly an economic loss for Russia, which is suffering the effects of Western economic sanctions and declining oil prices worldwide.

It is estimated the country uses just 60 percent of its present pipeline capacity. South Stream was never needed. It would have been politically convenient for Russia in that it bypassed Ukraine which currently transits half of the natural gas it sells to Europe.

The countries in the EU get roughly a quarter of their gas from Russia, but many of the new member states in Russia’s former sphere of influence are almost wholly dependent on it.

In the wake of the Crimean crisis, leaders asked the European Commission to draft proposals for reducing that dependence. Options are raising storage capacity — which European countries have already done since Russia twice shut gas transfers to Ukraine in 2006 and 2009, leaving other countries in the cold — and building more interconnectors to enable gas that is imported from Norway, Qatar or even the United States to flow the other way, preventing Russia from blackmailing former satellite states in Eastern Europe.

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