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    Greece Seemingly Gets Closer to Turkish Stream



The inclination of Greece towards the Turkish Stream pipeline grows stronger

by: Ioannis Michaletos

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Top Stories, Pipelines, Security of Supply, Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) , Turk/Turkish Stream, News By Country, Bulgaria, Russia, Turkey, , Greece, Balkans/SEE Focus

Greece Seemingly Gets Closer to Turkish Stream

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to visit Moscow on the 8th of April to discuss a whole range of bilateral issues with the Russian leadership, energy being one of the most important items on the agenda.

In particular the proposed Russian energy corridor "Turkish Stream" seems to be high on the upcoming discussions, since recently the Greek energy minister Panayotis Lafazanis visited Russia as well and placed forward the intention of Athens of joining Russia and Turkey in that route towards the EU markets.

More analytically, Lafazanis proposed to Russia's Gazprom that the route should firstly, change its name to reflect its pan-European consumer target group. Lafazanis lay on the table a new title, the "South European Gas Corridor”, presumably to also soothe any Greek anxiety of having a pipeline named after its most important geopolitical adversary, but quite comfortably, major trading partner, Turkey.

It is important to note that the proposed title is actually not new, but was referred to in a 2004 working paper by the Russian board member of the ITERA Company, V. M. Nazarov, who reflected Gazprom's plans at that time to link Turkey-Greece and the Balkans into a single gas route. In 2007, South Stream via Bulgaria was conceived, but it appears that the old project is now being resurrected.

Present talks between Lafazanis and Gazprom essentially deal about an extension of Turkish Stream which will stretch from the Greek-Turkish border up to Northern Greece, then will traverse vertically FYROM and Serbia, before reaching Hungary from where a spur to the Austrian Baumgarten mega-hub will be added, along with increased storage facilities in Hungary which will pump gas to different directions via interconnections with Slovakia, Croatia and Slovenia. That is actually the route of the scrapped South Stream, with the notable exception that Bulgaria is out and Turkey is in with an enhanced role for Greece and FYROM.

Greek energy ministry sources revealed to Natural Gas Europe, that should this plan goes forward, Greece stands to gain 3 billion Euros in direct investment, which include the construction of the pipeline, an underground storage facility in the Kavala and/or Thessaloniki region, and a entire gas transmission system in Northern Greece both for the industrial-commercial consumers, as well as household ones.

Greece is also pushing forward the idea of establishing an LNG terminal in Northern Greece that will serve a dual purpose. Firstly, to export Russian gas to the international markets and also to import LNG for the supply of Bulgaria via the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB).

On a geopolitical level, it is certain that US-Russia brinkmanship will extend to Turkish Stream and likewise it will affect the relationship between Athens and Washington. On an EU level, there are divergent opinions based on national and supranational levels, since Europe does need Russian gas at least for the short and mid-term, thus the cancellation of the South Stream would and should have been replaced by another project so as to ensure energy security of the Continent in case of a major disruption in Ukraine. In simple terms Ukraine has been written off by the Russian side as a transit territory, a fact that raised awareness to the EU core consumers to accommodate an alternative route.

In that case though, Germany foremost would require the inclusion of Bulgaria instead of Greece for two primary reasons. Relations with Athens have been frosty for quite some time, due to the existing negotiations on the debt issue and the overall divergent political climate between the two countries, whilst the Borisov government in Sofia has been especially accommodating to Berlin. Moreover Germany itself is eying but not admitting a role for itself of the main hub and distributor of Russian gas into the rest of the EU. Already the existing infrastructure of the Nord Stream serves in part that purpose and policy makers in Berlin would be more than happy of establishing another mega route via the Baltic Sea into Germany.

Another issue of importance is that Tsipras government has not yet decided on a long-term basis regarding the aforementioned projects which by nature span decades ahead and constitute basic geo-economic and political national decisions. It is pre-occupied with diplomatic entanglements that it is assumed they will serve the purpose of elevating a perceived role of Athens in the European diplomatic scene with an ultimate goal to reduce pressure in its pressing debt issue. That also includes the ongoing tough negotiations with the Troika group of lenders (IMF-ECB-EU Commission).

The composition of the Greek coalition government contains personalities strongly linked to American political interests for example, whilst placements of state officials in key security and administrative posts, indicate a stable and "routine-like" Euro-Atlantic posture.

Therefore, despite the seemingly boost of the Turkish Stream project via Greece en route to Central Europe, it is far from certain that such a course will be taken. Turkey, Germany and USA will strike the vital cords by which Greece will consequently ultimately decide on its course for this proposed gas route.

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