Commission Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? said today (4 February) that the Russian plan for a pipeline named “Turkish Stream” was not viable. It also became clear that the Commission is organising a secretive ministerial meeting in Sofia on 9 February, to discuss alternatives to the supply of Russian gas to the region.
Announcing the results of the first orientation debate on the Energy Union, Šef?ovi? answered questions from the Brussels press, most concerning Russia’s plans to replace South Stream with Turkish Stream, which would bring Russian gas across the Black Sea to Turkey, and from there, to the Turkish-Greek border.
One of the aims of the project is to bypass Ukraine, and another, to punish Bulgaria, which Russia blames for having obstructed the construction of South Stream.
Šef?ovi? repeated that it was very “unusual” for a company such as Russia to communicate with its clients via press conferences. Indeed, the first announcement about Moscow’s change of plan was during a press conference of President Vladimir Putin, in Turkey.
The Commission Vice-President also said that none of the countries or companies involved in the South Stream project had been officially notified of the project’s cancelation.
The same happens with Turkish Stream, Šef?ovi? said, calling it a “radical proposal”, which is hardly in conformity with the bilateral agreements individual companies have signed with Russia, which stipulate a precise place of delivery.
“I doubt that this place of delivery is the Greek-Turkish border,” Šef?ovi? said, referring to Russian statements that Turkish Stream will bring gas to a hub at the Greek-Turkish border.
On top of it, he said he was questioning the economic viability of the project, because in his words Turkey needed some 15 billion cubic metres per year (bcm/y), and the other countries of the region needed another 15 bcm.
“Why (do) you need to ship to that part of the world more than 60 bcm of gas?” he asked, referring to the fact that Russia said Turkish Stream will have the same capacity as South Stream, that is, 63 bcm.
“This will not work. I cannot see that this would be the final solution. I think that we will have to come back to a more rational debate on what should be the economically viable solutions for this project, and for overall gas cooperation between Gazprom and the European countries,” Šef?ovi? said.
EURACTIV asked Šef?ovi? why Russia wants to bring gas to the Greek border, and whether this is linked to a scenario in which Greece would cease to abide by EU law.
Šef?ovi? avoided a direct answer, but said that when he was in Moscow on his first trip in his new capacity, on 14 January, the only Russian reasoning had been the need to bypass Ukraine, because the country was unreliable, and that the rehabilitation of its gas grid would be too costly.
He added that he didn’t agree with this reasoning, because Kyiv was committed to energy reform, and that the EU and other financial institutions were going to provide funding for the modernisation of the gas transmission system. Moreover, he said that it was not possible that the current volume of transit of Russian gas of over 100 bcm could be immediately rerouted.
Asked about alternatives to South Stream, Šef?ovi? said that on Monday, EU ministers from the region would start “a very thorough discussion how to re-create the energy landscape in South Eastern Europe”.
“This part of Europe is not yet adequately integrated into the European energy system. There is still a big need for major infrastructural projects,” the Commission Vice-President said.
Regarding a proposal by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov for a European gas hub near the city of Varna, Šef?ovi? said that the EU would support such projects if they are transparent, viable, and if they are supported by neighbouring countries.
As EURACTIV has learned, the meeting in Sofia will be hosted by the Bulgarian authorities, but it is basically run by Šef?ovi?’ services. It will be held with the participation of energy ministers only from EU countries: Bulgaria, Austria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. Serbia, a candidate country, will reportedly be informed of the results of the meeting afterwards.
No other stakeholders are expected to attend. Also, no press events are foreseen, except doorstep statements. Russian journalists have applied for accreditation, EURACTIV was told, but it was not clear at the time of this article’s publication that they would be able to report from the meeting.
It also remains unclear what alternatives to Russian gas the region has, except some of the 10 bcm/y which would become available via the Southern gas corridor, when gas from Azerbaijan will start coming through the planned TANAP pipeline via Turkey, and the TAP (Trans-Adriatic) pipeline via Greece and Albania, by 2019-2020.