Trans Adriatic Pipeline to cut Europe’s reliance on Russia for natural gas – Washington Times

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LESBOS, GREECE — If it goes as its backers hope, a newly inaugurated pipeline crossing a half-dozen countries will shore up natural gas supplies in Europe and reduce the Continent’s worrying dependence on Russia as its critical supplier.

But many are wondering whether the pipeline can handle all the cargo — physical, economic and geopolitical — it’s expected to carry.

Slated to start operating in 2020, the $5 billion, 545-mile Trans Adriatic Pipeline will run through Italy, Greece and Albania and connect to a pipeline that runs from Turkey to Armenia and Azerbaijan, carving a southern route that bypasses Russia entirely. The pipeline is a joint venture of gas companies from Britain, Azerbaijan, Spain, Switzerland and Italy.

It is designed to provide natural gas to 7 million households in southeastern Europe, with the possibility of connecting to pipeline networks that service Western Europe as well.

It’s one of the 195 projects in the works to diversify and expand the European Union’s energy supplies and infrastructure.

“[This project is about] European energy security and diversification, but also about the access of certain countries and localities that were underprivileged regarding access to energy,” said Harry-Zachary Tzimitras, director of the Peace Research Institute in Cyprus. “It’s important for Greece as well. Greece will become possibly a hub in the future for energy transportation.”

Russia has been Europe’s leading supplier of fossil fuels for decades. Officials in the European Union have been desperate to reduce that dependence since a conflict between Russia and Ukraine erupted a decade ago and occasionally threatened supplies to the rest of Europe as well.

“The tipping point that opened the Pandora’s box of European anxieties regarding the EU’s heavy energy reliance on Russia was the Ukrainian crisis a decade ago and the subsequent first cutoff of Russian gas supplies to Europe,” said Vasileios P. Karakasis, an international affairs analyst at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. “To tackle this issue, a significant number of EU members sought to detect solutions that would diversify Europe’s energy supplies.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly unhappy about the pipeline. Energy is expected to be at the top of his agenda when he visits Greece this week. Moscow had been planning its own pipeline through either Turkey or Bulgaria into Greece and Italy but shelved those plans as a result of tensions with Turkey over Syria. The European Union, meanwhile, blocked the Bulgarian portion of the project.

Greek press reports this month also suggest Athens will not be making Russia’s proposed Poseidon pipeline a focus of Mr. Putin’s visit, citing the uncertain regional geopolitics.

Mr. Putin’s trip will be his first to an EU nation since a visit to Italy nearly a year ago.

Some argue that the Adriatic pipeline doesn’t necessarily need to annoy Moscow. Russia will still be pumping gas into Europe via Germany, which has been satisfied with the Russian supply line. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline represents only a modest share of overall European gas needs, and Russia’s Gazprom is expected to still be able to offer competitive prices compared with the new pipeline, analysts say.

“It’s important not to see it in an antagonistic fashion, but rather as a complementary one making sure it serves the diversification of the energy supply,” said Mr. Tzimitras.

Others say the pipeline won’t provide as much energy independence as its backers may be banking on.

“Will this project on its own fulfill the EU’s aspirations to diminish the Russian leverage vis-a-vis the EU? The answer is straightforward: No. This does not appear foreseeable in the near future,” said Mr. Karakasis. “The estimated amount of gas transferred to Europe from Azerbaijan is not even comparable to the respective amount coming from Russia.”

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Trans Adriatic Pipeline to cut Europe’s reliance on Russia for natural gas – Washington Times