The news that Russia has cancelled South Stream — a gas pipeline from Russia to Europe, via the Black Sea — was at first reported by many news agencies as a bitter blow to “The New Hitler,” Vladimir Putin. Here was proof that Russia was indeed isolated, and that the stance of the West was paying off.
However, just moments after this was reported, a monumental piece of news came through. The news was that instead of going ahead with the South Stream pipeline, which would have entered Europe in Bulgaria, Russia had just signed a deal with Turkey to build a pipeline into that country via the Black Sea. This new pipeline will be capable of delivering exactly the same amount of gas as the South Stream pipeline could have delivered (63billion cubic metres per year), and may include a special hub on the Turkish-Greek border to make delivery to Europe a possibility.
The significance of this cannot be overstated. This is what is technically known as a “game changer,” or if you prefer chess terminology, “check”. Why so?
I wrote here about how Putin had lobbed a missile right into the heart of the EU with the Russian sanctions, which came as a response to rounds and rounds of US and EU sanctions. I continue to believe that that’s exactly what it was, and the evidence of this can be seen in the growing criticism from various industries within EU countries that are suffering badly as a result of having access to the Russian market blocked.
But if anything, the abandoning of the South Stream project and the announcement of the “Turk Stream” project is an even bigger missile. My guess is that the EU is stunned and flabbergasted by this, and just as it took them a few days to take in the significance of the agricultural sector sanctions, it will take a few days for this to sink in too.
Sink in it will, though. The scheme has been shelved, not because Russia didn’t want it to go ahead, but firstly because EU bureaucracy and competition laws stalled it long before Barack O’Bomber could even point to Ukraine on a map, and secondly, and more importantly, because the EU and US put massive pressure on those countries involved in the project to put it on hold as an extra “sanction” on Russia (Bulgaria even got a visit from John McCain a few months ago, and they announced the suspension of the project the following day. Coincidence?).
But now Russia has completely pulled the rug from under their feet, not only by cancelling the project, but in a move of astonishing audacity, redirecting the whole thing via Turkey. At a press conference to announce all this, Putin said that Russian gas:
“will be retargeted to other regions of the world, which will be achieved, among other things, through the promotion and accelerated implementation of projects involving liquefied natural gas … We’ll be promoting other markets and Europe won’t receive those volumes, at least not from Russia. We believe that it doesn’t meet the economic interests of Europe and it harms our cooperation. But such is the choice of our European friends.”
“Such is the choice of our European friends” indeed. Well they have made that choice and now they can bask in the knowledge that all those Bulgarians, Serbians, Hungarians, Italians and Austrians who might have been employed on this project will not now be needed. The Bulgarian government has been especially foolish in toeing the Brussels/Berlin/Washington diktats and now finds herself losing the massive benefits that this project would have brought. Again, Mr Putin summed this up quite succinctly, whilst at the same time losing no opportunity to lob a missile straight into the heart of the EU project:
“If Bulgaria is deprived of the opportunity to act as a sovereign nation, then they should at least demand money from the European Commission to compensate for their lost profits, because direct revenues to Bulgaria’s budget alone would have been no less than 400 million Euros a year. But ultimately, this is also the choice of our Bulgarian partners; it seems they have certain obligations. Still, that’s not our business — it’s our partners’ business.”
As a further slap in the face for those countries, they will not only lose out on the jobs and the revenue, but they will also be at the mercy of Turkey if they want the gas that they could have got had they stood up to Brussels, Berlin and Washington. This is particularly ironic because the EU has been putting off Turkish membership for decades. I have no time for their President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose authoritarian tendencies are far greater than anything Vladimir Putin can cook up, but he has clearly decided that he is no longer interested in the EU, other than sticking two fingers up at it.
There are two other fascinating aspects to this new deal. The first is that Turkey is a NATO member. It has historically been allies of the US, but that relationship seems to have soured of late. The Turk Stream deal seems to set the seal on that souring relationship and shows that Turkey is no longer prepared to simply toe the line set by Washington. How the US government reacts to this will be hugely interesting, and I suspect it won’t be very positive.
The other hugely interesting aspect is the Syrian issue. Turkey has been supporting regime change in Syria, and has almost certainly been funding the rebel groups, many of whom managed to miraculously transmogrify themselves from “moderates” into fanatical jihadists under the name ISIS. Now, I may well be wrong, but it seems to me that the reason that Turkey was so keen on Syrian regime change was the same reason that Qatar, Saudi and the US have been so keen on regime change there — namely, so that a pro-US government could be installed there, and Qatar and Saudi could then be free to build oil and gas pipelines all the way to Europe, transiting both Syria and Turkey.
But with the announcement of the “Turk Stream” project, there will no longer be the same need for Turkey to oppose the Syrian regime. They can now act as the conduit for gas into Europe, but instead of this coming up through Syria, it will now come direct from Russia.
So watch this space. If I am right — and it is a big if — I would expect to see Turkey gradually shifting its position from one of outright hostility to the Assad regime, to one where they agree to cooperate in order to remove ISIS. This would pull the rug from under the carpet of the US government, whose actions against ISIS are really just a sideshow to their real business, which is the removal of Assad.
The end of South Stream and the beginning of Turk Stream is, as I say, a game changer in so many ways. In one foul swoop, Russia has managed to:
1. Make the leaders of the EU look stupid (which they largely are)
2. Sow discord within certain EU countries
3. Expose the fact that countries within the EU are unable to act as sovereign nations
4. Expose the fact that subservience to Washington, Brussels and Berlin is not in a nation’s interests
5. Create a split within the NATO alliance, whereby one of its members (Turkey) is openly cooperating with Russia
6. Open up the possibility that Europe will eventually get its energy via Turkey, bypassing Ukraine
7. Create the possibility that Turkey will change its line on Syria and join with them in routing ISIS
As I say, this is huge. But a final note of warning to the EU and US. You have just been put in check. Merely placing another round of sanctions is really not going to get you out of it.