Putin put the kibosh on the much ballyhooed South Stream gas pipeline this week, citing EU opposition as the driving reason behind the decision to scupper the partially constructed project. South Stream was meant to connect Russian gas supplies with Europe via a pipeline underneath the Black Sea into Bulgaria and eventually Austria, but has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine. The infrastructure project would have made it easier for eastern and southern Europe to secure Russian supplies, and would partially circumvent the potential issue of Ukrainian siphoning. But it was unpopular in both Brussels and Washington, where it was seen as a move that would further Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow. The New York Times is calling this a “diplomatic defeat” for Vlad:
It was a rare diplomatic defeat for Mr. Putin, who said Russia would redirect the pipeline to Turkey. He painted the failure to build the pipeline as a loss for Europe and blamed Brussels for its intransigence…The decision also seemed to be a rare victory for the European Union and the Obama administration, which have appeared largely impotent this year as Mr. Putin annexed Crimea and stirred rebellion in eastern Ukraine. […]The conflict in Ukraine increased pressure from Europe against the pipeline, and construction was halted by Bulgaria in June. As diplomatic and economic pressures increased, Mr. Putin personally decided to cancel the project, Russia’s energy minister, Alexander Novak, said.
It might not be as clear cut a victory as the Gray Lady seems to think, though. In the short to medium term, Europe’s options for diversifying away from Russian gas supplies are extremely limited; in that sense, the binning of a project meant to make these gas deliveries (which could be understood as a kind of necessary evil) more robust and reliable could be detrimental to European energy security.The only clear-cut winner in all of this is Turkey, which is now looking to receive a bump in Russian gas supplies and a discount, to boot, as the pipeline changes its course southward. However, that deal isn’t set in stone yet; Turkey’s energy minister said it was too early “to pronounce the final word on these matters today.” An EU spokesperson insisted that both Russia and the EU will sit down at an already scheduled meeting next week to work towards a deal. Put this alongside Keystone in your “Pipelines to Watch” folder.