When Putin told reporters that Moscow would no longer be pursuing the so-called South Stream gas pipeline into Europe last December, analysts called it a blow against the Russian president’s strategic goals in the continent. South Stream, after all, was intended to allow Gazprom gas to find its way to European customers without transiting Ukraine, whose relationship with Russia is… strained at the moment.
Shortly thereafter, the Kremlin announced that it would be pursuing a “Turkish Stream” alternative, and this week Gazprom and Ankara seemed to finalize a deal to move forward with that pipeline. Though anonymous Turkish officials refused to confirm that a deal had been reached quite yet, they said negotiations were proceeding well. And on Thursday, Gazprom’s CEO Alexei Miller told Russian media that “It was agreed to bring on stream Turkish Stream and to start gas supplies in December 2016.” Another Gazprom executive clarified to the FT that this meant construction would begin on the undersea parts of the pipeline which would initially only deliver supplies to Turkey.
The next challenge, of course, is getting the gas to Europe from there. Vladimir Putin was on the job, according to the FT:
Mr Putin said, in a phone call with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday, that Moscow “confirmed its readiness to consider providing financing to Greek state and private companies” participating in the construction of gas pipelines to transport Russian gas from Turkey through Greece.
Needless to say, neither Washington nor Brussels is thrilled at the prospect of Turkish Stream coming online, or with NATO allies Greece and Turkey getting cozy with Russia. The United States was doing its part in Athens, according to the New York Times:
A State Department envoy in Athens urged Greece on Friday to embrace a Western-backed project that would link Europe to natural gas supplies in Azerbaijan, rather than agree to a gas pipeline project pushed by Moscow.
The dueling sales pitches, reminiscent of a Cold War struggle, come as debt-burdened Greece is desperate for new sources of revenue of the sort that a gas pipeline could bring.
In an interview in Athens on Friday, before meeting with Greek officials, the State Department envoy, Amos J. Hochstein, said Greece would increase its appeal to Western investors — and would help reduce the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas supplies — if it declined to play host to a pipeline proposed by the Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom.
No word yet on how all of this is playing in the bailout negotiations between Greece and Europe. It’s not likely that Russia itself would or could cough up enough money to make a big difference to Greece’s ultimate bottom line. But if, by mistake or on purpose, Greece is cut loose from the euro, it’s quite possible Tsipras in desperation would try to reorient his country toward Russia. How much would that matter to the Europeans in terms of security? Can an exact dollar (euro) value be put on the answer to that question? These are the sorts of thoughts surely running through the minds of the best and the brightest in Brussels as crunch time nears in the Greek debt talks.