Two major pipeline projects that have so far been considered rivals, the EU-favoured Nabucco and Gazprom's South Stream, may merge, US Ambassador to Italy David Thorne told Italian daily La Stampa in an interview published today (10 January).
Thorne downplayed revelations by WikiLeaks in early December, in which US diplomats said that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may have personally profited from energy deals between Italy and Russia.
"We are much less worried about the alleged closeness between Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin," Thorne said, explaining that ''Italy has been a strong promoter of rapprochement with Russia, and that is the position of [US President Barack] Obama".
"There has been progress with Russia which has improved the atmosphere,'' Thorne added.
Asked if the same was true for ties with Italian energy giant ENI, which is an important shareholder in the South Stream pipeline project (see 'Background'), Thorne said: ''Yes, because there have been many meetings with [ENI's CEO] Paolo Scaroni in Rome and in Washington. ENI has changed its approach, favouring a merge under the South Stream and Nabucco pipelines. I would say that we are in a constructive phase'.'
Last week, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said he would be visiting Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in the course of this week.
Azerbaijan is currently carrying out negotiations ahead of selecting in April a client or clients to access ten billion cubic metres (bcm) of Azeri gas in the Shah Deniz II field. The Nabucco consortium is one of the bidders, alongside other projects such as ITGI and TAP (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on the Southern Gas Corridor).
The Nabucco gas pipeline was originally proposed by the USA in the period immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is seen as a political project whose goal is to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian gas.
South Stream is also a political project, designed to bypass Ukraine by running under the Black Sea to Bulgaria. From there, one branch will go to Greece and Italy, and another one will supply Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria.
According to the project's official website, South Stream is "aimed at strengthening European energy security" by eliminating "transit risk," and is "another real step toward executing Gazprom's strategy to diversify Russian natural gas supply routes".