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Pipeline Politics

Tyler Kattler

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Russia and the European Union have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to energy. Over a third of Europe’s gas comes from the Russian bear. Russia exports 57% of its goods to Europe of which two thirds is gas. This relationship leaves both parties entirely dependent on the other for stability. In economics the concept of diversity is critically important in order to ensure stability should a singular source be disrupted. Unfortunately, this relationship is the exact opposite of diverse.

Therefore, the European Union has to find ways to diversify its energy needs. The ongoing Ukraine crisis and the increasing volatility of Russia is putting pressure on the EU to come up with solutions quickly.  Two pipelines have been proposed in order for the EU to diversify.

The first pipeline crosses the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet satellite and has had conflicts with its neighbour Armenia, which is why the pipeline would pass through Georgia instead of Armenia. Russia has also been aggressive on its southern border including the unofficial occupation of part of Georgia. It is possible that Russia would take military action to avoid the construction of this pipeline. Russia has looked to enforce an old law from the Soviet Union in which all five Caspian littoral states must agree to build the pipeline. Due to the strained relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan the pipeline would be shutdown if this law was rectified. Armenia is looking to build closer ties with Russia. The Azerbaijani economy is 94% mineral resources.

The second option for the EU to diversify its energy needs comes from Israel. This proposed pipeline would travel through Cyprus to Turkey and from there the rest of the EU. Cyprus is currently in a conflict in which half the country is unofficially occupied by Turkey. In order for this pipeline to be constructed the conflict must be resolved.

These plans are further complicated by Russia’s relationship with Turkey. Despite the two countries being traditional rivals, a tradition which dates back to the birth of Orthodox Christianity, it is becoming increasingly convenient for them to work together. Even though Turkey shot down a Russian jet heading to Syria they have agreed to construct the Turkish Stream pipeline.

Russia’s motives for this pipeline are rather sinister. Russia must protect its exports; however, this pipeline is a direct attempt to destabilize the Ukraine as well as weaken Bulgaria. The Russian pipelines “Brotherhood” and “Soyuz” will see a 25% reduction in the amount of gas being sent through them. Both these pipelines travel through the Ukraine. This means 25% less revenue for Ukraine. The ongoing War in the Donbass will only become more difficult for the Ukraine with this huge loss in revenue. It is no wonder what the endgame for Russia is, a weakened Ukraine can be easily puppeted like Belarus. Bulgaria is also weakened because the construction of the Turkish Stream means the utter abandonment of the South Stream pipeline which, after travelling through the Black Sea, enters Europe through Bulgaria.

The Turkish Stream Pipeline is only the start to Russian energy plans. The planned Nord Stream is the icing on the cake for Vladimir Putin. Nord Stream runs through the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. This allows Russia to bypass all of Eastern Europe. It is likely that the construction of Nord Stream will cost the Ukraine an additional ¾ of a billion dollars. The danger of Nord Stream to the west becomes significantly amplified when you consider the direct military implications. The construction of the pipeline gives Russia a permit to send its navy deep into the Baltic Sea. Sweden has stated that the construction of the pipeline is a matter of national security.

Pipeline politics are a chess game where military, resources, money and politics all come in contact. Even if the military Cold War has ended the resource and monetary Cold War has not.

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