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The United States is reporting some success in persuading Greece to accommodate a Western-backed pipeline through Turkey to supply Europe with gas from the Caspian Sea rather than an alternative project – backed by Moscow – that would ship Russian gas.
Washington sent Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s special envoy on energy affairs, to Athens to discuss the options with several Greek officials. On May 8 Hochstein reported that both sides “agreed on more than we disagreed.”
“Turkish Stream doesn't exist,” Hochstein said, referring to Russia’s proposed pipeline through Turkey. “There is no consortium to build it, there is no agreement to build it. … [I]n the meantime, [we should] focus on what's important – the pipeline we already agreed to, that Greece already agreed to.”
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has been wooing Greece’s new leftist prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, by saying its planned Turkish Stream pipeline, designed to bypass Ukraine to deliver gas from Russia’s state-run Gazprom to Europe, possibly through Greece, would be a lucrative source of transit fees for a country in need of cash.
The United States has been urging Greece to opt for the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), an extension of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), which would carry gas from Caspian fields off the coast of Azerbaijan through Turkey, Greece, and Albania, before continuing on to Italy via the Adriatic Sea.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias says the Greek leg of the proposed Russian-backed pipeline could earn billions of dollars for Athens. But there’s one significant snag holding up the entire project: Moscow and Ankara haven’t yet come to terms on the section that would run through Turkey .
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But as recently as May 7, Putin and Tsipras spoke by phone about the proposed Turkish Stream pipeline, and the Greek leader’s office confirmed that Athens, eager to have its own diverse source of energy, is ready to be a part of that plan if Russia and Turkey can come to terms.
In Athens, Hochstein tried to sell the Greek government on the virtues of developing multiple sources of gas. “Diversification is ultimately the best way to create security of supply,” he said. “And that means that you should be allowed to bring in other sources of gas that are non-Russian, just to have competition.”
The US envoy said diversification and competition would enhance Europe’s energy security.
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“[N]ew source, new supply, new route,” he said. “And it’s not a single country that is dominating the infrastructure and the gas production, it’s many companies, different consortiums, different countries … no one element can bring it down or use it as leverage.”
In fact, Hochstein said, Russia isn’t interested in helping Greece dig itself out from beneath billions of dollars of debt. He told The New York Times that the Turkish Stream project “is not an economic project” but is “only about politics.”
But Russia isn’t the only one viewing the pipeline through a political prism. Not only does the U.S. believe that TAP will reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, but it is also trying bolster a NATO ally in the East-leaning Balkans, as well as reduce Russian political influence in a region that the two superpowers have long fought over.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com