Russia, Turkey Launch TurkStream Gas Pipeline with Bulgaria, Serbia

Russia, Turkey Launch TurkStream Gas Pipeline with Bulgaria, Serbia

TurkStream seems like a downsized version of the South Stream gas pipeline project canceled by Moscow in 2014 against the backdrop of EU objections over competition rules.

The state leaders of Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia formally launched on Wednesday the TurkStream pipeline that will carry Russian natural gas to Europe through the Black Sea.

The ceremony in Instanbul, Turkey, was attended by the four state leaders: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Erdogan, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

The TurkStream pipeline runs 930 km across the Black Sea, from Russia to Turkey, and then to its border with Bulgaria where it enters EU territory. In Bulgaria, the project is referred to as “Balkan Stream”.

TurkStream has two pipelines, each with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters of natural gas, for a combined total of 31.5 bcm. The first pipeline is to supply Turkey, while the second one

It appears as a more complex, downsized version of the former South Stream gas transit pipeline project, which was supposed to deliver Russian natural gas from Russia directly on EU territory in Bulgaria.

South Stream was canceled by Moscow in December 2014, after in June of that year Bulgaria temporarily halted its construction over a European Commission infringement procedure against the country for its failure to observe EU energy competition rules.

Just like the now defunct South Stream would have, TurkStream allows Russia to circumvent from the south its traditional gas transit route to Europe via Ukraine.

“[TurkStream is a sign of] interaction and cooperation for the benefit of our people and the people of all Europe, the whole world”, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said at the inauguration ceremony, as cited by Reuters.

Earlier this week, Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz announced that Russian producer Gazprom had already started European gas deliveries through the pipeline.

Gazprom plans to ship about 3 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year to Bulgaria via TurkStream replacing the previous route through Ukraine and Romania.

The second pipeline of TurkStream, which Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov insists on calling “Balkan Stream”, will extend from Bulgaria to Serbia and Hungary.

Bulgaria’s authorities plan to be able to make shipments to Serbia by May 2020, and build the whole section by the end of the year.

In a South Stream flashback déjà vu, in December 2019, Russian President Putin accused Bulgaria of delaying the construction of TurkStream / Balkan Stream on its territory, and warned that Moscow could find an alternative route.

In response, Borisov denied deliberate delays and even bragged about the construction’s progress. In Bulgaria, the project has been criticized as a courtesy to Moscow, with the Bulgarian state making massive investments that might not be returned in the short to medium run.

Russia’s efforts to develop natural gas transit routes circumventing Ukraine have come against the backdrop of the 2009 gas dispute between the two countries, and the hostilities between them since 2014, after Putin seized the Crimean Peninsula, and a pro-Russian insurgency erupted in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine.

In addition to building TurkStream, the reduced version of South Stream, Russia is also doubling the capacity of the Nord Stream gas transit pipeline, with the building of the so called Nord Stream 2, via the Baltic Sea directly to Germany.

A defense law approved by the US Senate last month imposed sanctions related to both Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream said to be designed to “deter Russian aggression”.

The US sanctions have caused a delay in the construction of Nord Stream 2 as Western companies involved have pulled out but Russia has vowed to complete it on its own.

At the end of 2019, Russia and Ukraine reached a compromise by negotiating a five-year agreement on gas transit to Europe. The former had demanded a one-year deal, and the latter – a ten-year contract. Presently, Ukraine receives about USD 3 billion per year in Russian gas transit fees.

Despite the new five-year deal, the volume of Russian gas pumped to Europe via Ukraine is projected to fall from 65 bcm per year in 2020 to 40 bcm per year between 2021 and 2024.

(Banner image: Boyko Borisov’s Facebook Page)

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