President Vladimir Putin yesetrday launched construction of the long-awaited South Stream pipeline that the Kremlin hopes will pump Russia’s gas to Europe while avoiding its unpredictable neighbour Ukraine
The pipeline will flow underneath the Black Sea and through the Balkans to supply energy giant Gazprom’s big European clients with Russian gas and ensure the security of its energy exports.
South Stream was lobbied as an alternative to the conventional gas route to Europe through Ukraine, and EU clients are keen to avoid a repeat of the winter of 2009 when a bitter spat between Moscow and Kiev over gas prices caused cutoffs.
The project is of huge personal importance for Putin and in a sign of his serious intent he ordered Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller to bring the launch date forward to 2012 from 2013.
Putin promised that the project would not harm the Black Sea, one of Russia’s prime resort destinations.
Gazprom’s Miller said that the first gas deliveries via the pipeline were planned for December 2015, calling the launch a “historic event”.
The EU is also backing a rival project called Nabucco, a planned pipeline project to bring Caspian gas to Europe and regarded with the greatest of suspicion by Russia.
Gazprom’s project was originally conceived jointly with the Italian energy firm ENI and they were later joined in the consortium by Germany’s Wintershall and the French power producer EDF.
Russia also won crucial approval from Ankara to construct the South Stream pipeline through its waters.
After exiting the Black Sea, the pipeline is due to cross Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia and then Austria to connect with the main European pipeline network.
South Stream is being built by a consortium owned 50 percent by Gazprom, 20 percent by ENI, 15 per cent by EDF and 15 per cent by Wintershall.
Russian gas deliveries currently represent a quarter of the European Union’s total gas needs.
Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, praised Russia for undertaking the project in a fast-changing environment.
“Investing in a major new infrastructure project on the promise of a brighter future for European gas could be seen as a brave choice,” she told reporters in Russia late Thursday.
“South Stream represents many things to many people, but it would also be a vote of confidence in the future of European gas.” (AFP)
Full article: Putin launches construction of key South Stream pipeline (The Citizen)