Geopolitical maneuvering over Southern Corridor boiling

Greece’s energy-sector matters may have frozen to a standstill following newly appointed Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis’s recent agenda presentation in Parliament, loaded with major changes, but geopolitical issues concerning development of the wider region’s gas pipeline infrastructure are currently fervent.

The European Union, Turkey, and Russia, the main players, are seeking, for individual reasons, to strengthen their positions by promoting their respective plans, TAP, TANAP, and Turkish Stream.

Russia is pushing to present Turkish Stream, which would make an underwater crossing though the Black Sea to transmit Russian natural gas to the Greek-Turkish border, as a highly competitive project. The recently elected Greek government has reshuffled the cards by declaring it will renegotiate terms for the TAP project, to carry Azeri gas into Europe, via Greece. The European Commisssion is increasing the pressure to finalize procedures for the completion of its Southern Corridor, its overall aim being to supply gas from the Caspian and Middle Eastern regions to Europe through various projects.

A Southern Corridor advisory council meeting in Baku today, attended by Lafazanis, will seek political allegiance from the TAP project’s six participating countries, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, and Italy, the aim being to swiften the project’s development and beat the Russian-backed Turkish Stream proposal to the finish line for a 2020 commercial launch.

Within this context, Lafazanis’s participation at the Baku meeting will serve as a crucial test for his declared intention to renegotiate TAP’s transit terms for the project’s Greek segment, as well as the minister’s wider declaration for a multi-leveled and multi-dimensional energy policy, which implies also bringing Russia into the equation.

A declaration made yesterday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who, following a meeting with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias, noted that “Greece is interested in Moscow’s plan to develop the Turkish Stream pipeline,” cannot be considered coincidental.

It will be interesting to see what the European Commission’s Vice President Maros Sefcovic, in charge of Energy Union, has to say to Lafazanis in Baku. Sefcovic recently voiced opposition to the Russian-Turkish backed Turkish Stream plan.

It will also be interesting to see how the Azeri president Ilham Aliyev and TAP officials respond to Lafazanis’s triple-demand for lower natural gas prices to Greece, an equity stake for the Greek state in the TAP consortium, and transmission fees, as conditions for the project’s crossing through northern Greece.

Seeking to protect its interests derived from both the west and Russia, Turkey, maintaining its customary double-play role, has not wasted any time to reject rumors that Turkish Stream would rival TANAP, and, by extension, the TAP project. TANAP will transmit Azeri gas to Turkey and Europe via TAP.

“The two plans differ significantly to each other and will help Turkey bolster its position in the region,” Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci remarked in Baku.

Meanwhile, the prospect of Turkish Stream being developed is being highly doubted as the project would require major investment from both Turkey and Russia. Pundits contend that Russia’s financing ability has been seriously affected by the west’s sanctions imposed on the country.