Russia eyeing Greek-Italian route for regional pipeline plan

Following problems encountered in various European markets, Russia appears to be abandoning the idea of promoting the development of a natural gas pipeline to central Europe via a northbound Balkan crossing whose route would include Greece, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom), Serbia and Hungary. Instead, Russia’s new pipeline plan for the region is now focusing on an Adriatic crossing from Greece to Italy, an option that would utilize the stalled ITGI pipeline plan, already licensed for development.

The ITGI project was originally planned to carry Azeri natural gas to Italy, via Greece and Turkey, but its was left to a standstill after Azerbaijan opted for the TAP (Trans-Adriatic Pipeline) project, to cross Turkey, Greece’s north, and Albania to Italy, as its project of choice for the Southern Corridor.

Russian energy giant Gazprom’s CEO Alexey Miller held a meeting with Edison’s managing director Bruno Lescoeur and other highly-ranked company officials in Milan last week.

“Matters of existing and potential collaboration” especially “supply and growth prospects of natural gas infrastructure in Europe” were discussed, Gazprom noted in a brief statement following the meeting.

According to energypress sources, the two officials discussed possibilities concerning the Southern Corridor, including the plan for Russian gas supply through Greece to Europe.

The Gazprom chief’s decision to travel to Italy’s north for talks with the administration at Edison, holder of the key to the ITGI project, is indicative of the importance placed by the Russian company on this alternative plan for southeast Europe.

The Milan meeting was held in the wake of a series of meetings in Athens between local officials and senior US energy envoys, as well as a visit to Moscow by Giorgos Tsipras, the Greek Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General for International Economic Relations, who met with Russias’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak.

The US and EU are generally seeking to promote a plan that would lessen Europe’s dependence on Russian gas by supporting a diversification of sources.

The prospect of utilizing the already-licensed Greek-Italian pipeline project, which would be developed as an extension of Turkish Stream if the plan to carry Russian gas all the way to the Greek-Turkish border area is actualized, has been a core issue of these meetings.

The prospective ITGI project, as part of the wider Russian plan for the area, offers many advantages. Its progress would be swift. Besides the permit already granted, this project has been classified as a Project of Common Interest (PCI) by the European Commission, which would ensure EU funding for its development.

The Russian plan’s Greece-Italy segment would be controlled by Poseidon, a consortium comprised of DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, and Italy’s Edison, a member of the French corporate group EDF. Both Italy and France have previously expressed strong support for the ITGI plan, and continue to firmly back its development.

It is widely believed that if the stalled ITGI project is revived, then its political backing by France and Italy – a country regarded as maintaining a pro-Russia stance in Europe – could create a strong front that may soften European Commission objections to Russia’s Turkish Stream plan.

Bringing France and Italy into the picture would also bolster the commercial prospects of Russia’s Turkish Stream plan.