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Will Macedonia Scuttle Gazprom's New Mega Pipeline?

Building pipelines in Russia
Building pipelines in Russia
Yuri Barsukov
SKOPJE — Macedonia's prime minister announced last week that his country would participate in Gazprom's "Turkish Stream" pipeline, which is meant to allow gas deliveries from Russia to Europe to bypass Ukraine, under one condition: that the European Union sign off on the project.

Opposition groups in Macedonia have been lobbying for Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski to resign. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has declared that the opposition protests are being organized by foreign forces, who are angry that the prime minister didn't join the rest of Europe in instituting sanctions against Russia.

In an interview with a local newspaper, Gruevski tried to distance himself from pro-Russian positions. When asked about people who came to his demonstration wearing T-shirts with Putin's photo on them, he responded that there were 100,000 people at the demonstration, and perhaps three or four were showing off pro-Russian paraphernalia.

The "Turkish Stream" is intended to go through the Black Sea to Turkey, and then through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary before reaching one of Europe's largest gas hubs in Austria. The pipeline would be equipped to carry about 60 billion cubic meters per year (500 billion barrels), and would be able to replace the pipeline through Ukraine — which Gazprom says it will abandon in 2020.

But the project is still in its very beginning stages, and Gazprom hasn't signed a single necessary agreement, nor clarified where the funding would come from.

[rebelmouse-image 27089098 alt="""" original_size="800x532" expand=1]

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski — Photo: European People's Party

Under the current plan, it would be impossible to avoid Macedonia, yet the project isn't very attractive to the Balkan country of just 2.1 million people. Macedonia only uses 150 million cubic meters of gas per year, which it currently gets from Russia. But as Gruevski correctly noted, Russian gas is expensive (at more than $500 for 1,000 cubic meters, it is one one Europe's most expensive gas sources). Macedonia is planning to access another pipeline that would give it access to cheaper Azerbaijani gas.

As a result, this small country, whose opinion on the project no one has really bothered to investigate, might end up playing the same role as Bulgaria played in the planning of another Gazprom pipeline, South Stream. That is, completely blocking the project.

Merging pipelines

In fact, both Russian and European energy experts told Kommersant that it is unlikely any pipeline will be built beyond Turkey. In the most ambitious scenario, experts say Gazprom would limit the project to two lines through the Black Sea to Turkey, since the company already has contracts with European companies to work on those lines. Moreover, getting additional contracts will be difficult, given the current sanctions against working with Russian companies. Therefore, unless the political climate changes, there is slim chance that Gazprom will be able to sign a contract for the construction of a third line.

Nonetheless, the goal of bypassing Ukraine by 2020 might still be feasible, by combining the shortened Turkish Stream with the "Eaststring" pipeline, which would send gas to the Balkans, and the Nord Stream, which would supply gas to Central Europe. Taken together, all of these pipelines would only have a capacity of 50 billion cubic meters per year, but that would likely be enough since European demand for Russian gas continues to drop.

The bigger picture reminds us that in all of these possibilities Gazprom would have to find a way to work with Brussels, which ultimately has the broadest authority to control the delivery of Russian gas to the European Union.

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