Washington briefing: “Rival” gas pipelines discussed in Sofia, Prague

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday May 02, 2009

Washington - European countries are continuing to discuss ways to safeguard their gas supplies from interruptions, resulting in part from their overdependence on supplies from Russia and the latter's recurring pricing disputes with transit countries like Ukraine.

A meeting in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on April 24-25 brought together senior officials from 28 countries and, according to local media, focused on the so-called South Stream project that would bring Russian natural gas under the Black Sea to Turkey and then on to Europe, thus avoiding Ukraine.

That summit's main intrigue was Russian premier Vladimir Putin's decision to pull out at the last moment, sending his energy minister instead. According to media speculation, Mr. Putin's decision came after Bulgaria declined to cede its gas distribution network to Russia's Gazprom as part of South Stream.

For their part, Europeans seek to increase the transparency of gas purchase and transit agreements made by Gazprom with Central Asian gas suppliers.

On May 6–7, the European Union  will hold its summit in the Czech capital. On the agenda there is EU support for the U.S.-backed Nabucco gas pipeline that aims to bring Central Asian (and potentially Iranian) gas to Europe bypassing Russia via Turkey. (Turkey has conditioned its support for Nabucco on progress of its accession talks with the union, which are hampered by objections from Cyprus.)

The Prague summit will also bring together leaders of four former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine, for the formal launch of the "Eastern partnership" proposed by the EU. Leaders of Belarus and Moldova are expected to stay out over their disputes with EU member-states.


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