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The importance of the cancellation of South Stream

Key points:

In order to understand what has happened it is first necessary to go back to the way Russian-European relations were developing in the 1990s. Briefly, at that period, the assumption was that Russia would become the great supplier of energy and raw materials to Europe. This was the period of Europe's great 'rush for gas' as the Europeans looked forward to unlimited and unending Russian supplies. It was the increase in the role of Russian gas in the European energy mix which made it possible for Europe to run down its coal industry and cut its carbon emissions and bully and lecture everyone else to do the same.”

However the Europeans did not envisage that Russia would just supply them with energy. Rather they always supposed this energy would be extracted for them in Russia by Western energy companies. This after all is the pattern in most of the developing world. The EU calls this 'energy security' - a euphemism for the extraction of energy in other countries by its own companies under its own control. It never happened that way. Though the Russian oil industry was privatised it mostly remained in Russian hands. After Putin came to power in 2000 the trend towards privatisation in the oil industry was reversed. One of the major reasons for western anger at the arrest of Khodorkovsky and the closure of Yukos and the transfer of its assets to the state oil company Rosneft was precisely because is reversed this trend of privatisation in the oil industry. In the gas industry the process of privatisation never really got started. Gas export continued to be controlled by Gazprom, maintaining its position as a state owned monopoly gas exporter. Since Putin came to power Gazprom’s position as a state owned Russian monopoly has been made fully secure.

This combination of resentment and overconfidence is what lies behind the repeated European attempts to legislate in Europe on energy questions in a way that is intended to force Russia to 'open up' its the energy industry there. The first attempt was the so-called Energy Charter, which Russia signed but ultimately refused to ratify. The latest attempt is the EU's so-called Third Energy Package. This is presented as a development of EU anti-competition and anti-monopoly law. In reality, as everyone knows, it is targeted at Gazprom, which is a monopoly, though obviously not a European one. This is the background to the conflict over South Stream. The EU authorities have insisted that South Stream must comply with the Third Energy Package even though the Third Energy Package came into existence only after the outline agreements for South Stream had been already reached. Compliance with the Third Energy Package would have meant that though Gazprom supplied the gas it could not own or control the pipeline through which gas was supplied.”

What has just happened is that the Russians have said no. Rather than proceed with the project by submitting to European demands, which is what the Europeans expected, the Russians have to everyone’s astonishment instead pulled out of the whole project. This decision was completely unexpected. As I write this, the air is of full of angry complaints from south-eastern Europe that they were not consulted or informed of this decision in advance. Several politicians in south-eastern Europe (Bulgaria especially) are desperately clinging to the idea that the Russian announcement is a bluff (it isn’t) and that the project can still be saved. Since the Europeans cling to the belief that the Russians have no alternative to them as a customer, they were unable to anticipate and cannot now explain this decision.”

Gas from Iran is not available for political reasons. Whilst that might eventually change, the probability is when it does that the Iranians (like the Russians) will decide to direct their energy flow eastwards, towards India and China, rather than to Europe. [...] The EU's difficulties in finding alternative sources of gas were cruelly exposed by the debacle of the so-called another Nabucco pipeline project to bring Europe gas from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Though talked about for years in the end it never got off the ground because it never made economic sense.”

Russia has sealed a key deal with Iran to swap Iranian oil for Russian industrial goods. Russia has also agreed to invest heavily in the Iranian nuclear industry. If and when sanctions on Iran are lifted the Europeans will find the Russians already there. Russia has just agreed a massive deal to supply gas to Turkey. Overshadowing these deals are the two huge deals Russia has made this year to supply gas to China. [...] The second deal done with China and the deal just done with Turkey redirect to these two countries gas that had previously been earmarked for Europe. The gas volumes involved in the Turkish deal almost exactly match those previously intended for South Stream. The Turkish deal replaces South Stream. These deals show that Russia had made a strategic decision this year to redirect its energy flow away from Europe. Though it will take time for the full effect to become clear, the consequences of that for Europe are grim. Europe is looking at a serious energy shortfall, which it will only be able to make up by buying energy at a much higher price.”

By redirecting gas to China, Russia cements economic links with the country that it now considers its key strategic ally and which has (or which soon will have) the world’s biggest and fastest growing economy. By redirecting gas to Turkey, Russia consolidates a burgeoning relationship with Turkey of which it is now the biggest trading partner. Turkey is a key potential ally for Russia, consolidating Russia's position in the Caucasus and the Black Sea.”

By redirecting gas away from Europe, Russia by contrast leaves behind a market for its gas which is economically stagnant and which (as the events of this year have shown) is irremediably hostile. No one should be surprised that Russia has given up on a relationship from which it gets from its erstwhile partner an endless stream of threats and abuse, combined with moralising lectures, political meddling and now sanctions. No relationship, business or otherwise, can work that way and the one between Russia and Europe is no exception.”

All the EU countries, even those with historic ties to Russia, have supported the EU's various sanctions packages against Russia notwithstanding the doubts they have expressed about the policy. Last year Greece, another country with strong ties to Russia, pulled out of a deal to sell its natural gas company to Gazprom because the EU disapproved of it, even though it was Gazprom that offered the best price.

Full article:


What we see in Ukraine is probably another failure of various think tanks, mostly from Washington, which they are funded, of course, by the international capital. It seems that, apart from the fact that they have underestimated Putin's abilities, they have also wrongly estimated that Russia had passed permanently in the neoliberal phase and would be ready to become an easy victim to promote their plans. According to these plans, the ultimate goal would be probably to dissolve the vast Russian territory in future and bring in power Western-friendly puppet regimes, in order not only to conquer the valuable resources, but also to impose permanently the neoliberal doctrine on “unexplored” regions and populations.


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