Wednesday, 30 March 2011

European Pipedreams

Asking the Russians not to block Nabucco and to accept that the Southern Corridor (the project proposed to link Caspian and Middle Eastern gas to Europe) is no threat to Moscow’s own South Stream proposal for European energy diversification is a futile exercise.  It may be true that construction of the gigantic Nabucco pipeline need not necessarily mean the writing on the wall for South Stream, but the Russians will no doubt be more concerned with keeping the European market captive in the long term.

Thus, while EU Energy Commissioner, Gunther Oettinger has endeavoured to assert that Moscow shouldn't pressure gas-rich nations in the Caspian region and to imply that South Stream and the Southern Corridor could co-exist peacefully, these sentiments are bound to fall on deaf ears.  As pointed out by Philip Lowe, EU Commission Director-General for Energy, at a lecture hosted by The Henry Jackson Society on Monday night, the Russians do not like talk of diversification unless it concerns diversification of routes with one end firmly in the Federation.  Diversification of suppliers is a whole new brand of vodka – and, I might add, a brand that is not to the Kremlin’s veteran taste.

Expecting the Russians to give their full blessing to Nabucco is therefore unrealistic.  In fact, Moscow would sooner see Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan send their gas East, to China – a market perceived by many as the future apple of Gazprom’s eye – than to see it head West to Russia’s traditional market (a move which would significantly loosen Russia’s grip on Europe).

Of course, this shouldn’t discourage the EU’s attempts at diversification which is, after all, an integral feature of its energy security policy.  But what it does mean is that despite Gazprom Chief, Alexei Miller’s recent proclamation that the Russians “have nothing against Nabucco”, expecting their full support any time soon is a pipedream too far.

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