Athens, Sofia Warily Watch Medvedev-Erdogan PactsViews on BG | May 17, 2010, Monday // 16:33| views
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands after a press conference in Ankara, Turkey on 12 May 2010. Photo by EPA/BGNES
By Kostis Geropoulos
Moscow and Ankara inked agreements to cooperate on a number of energy projects, including the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline bypassing the Bosporus and Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. During Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on 12 May that his country would turn into a transit base thanks to the South Stream and Blue Stream gas pipelines and the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline as well as an oil refinery. The projects highlight Turkey’s increased role in the transport of oil and gas supplies in the region and ensure continued Russian control of energy transport routes to Europe.
Samsun-Ceyhan appears to compete with a 51% Russian project to build a different Bosporus bypass, from the Bulgarian port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis in Greece. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose government was elected in July 2009, delayed the latter and in October, Russian companies initialed an agreement that could also give them a stake in Samsun-Ceyhan.
A Russian diplomat told New Europe in Athens on 6 May that Burgas-Alexandroupolis is moving forward but has encountered some problems on the Bulgarian side. A top Bulgarian energy official in Sofia told New Europe on 13 May that they are in the process of carrying out a lengthy environmental and social impact assessment based on European standards and “if and when” they complete it they may have a more concerted view on Burgas-Alexandroupolis. Asked if the project was moving forward, the Bulgarian official quipped: “Why not? We have signed the contracts - whatever can be moved without prejudice to the outcome of the environmental and social impact assessment.”
Russia has not given up on any other projects including Burgas-Alexandroupolis. In Ankara on 12 May, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko suggested Samsun-Ceyhan and Burgas-Alexandroupolis could be run jointly. Russia has said that the Black Sea straits are overcrowded and it takes a long time for tankers to pass through them. Moscow has also hinted at the possibility of establishing a common company to operate both pipelines. The Bulgarian energy official told new Europe that there should be an analysis on the positions of all four countries - Greece, Bulgaria, Russia and Turkey – to see if there is any basis of merging future operations of two Russian-supplied oil pipelines.
Meanwhile, during their talks in Ankara on 12 May, Medvedev and Erdogan highlighted the importance of the planned South Stream gas pipeline. Last year, in exchange for Russia’s decision to participate in Samsun-Ceyhan, Turkey agreed to let Russia use its territorial waters for South Stream. The project would compete with the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline project, which would carry gas to Europe across Turkey. Bulgaria is partner in both pipeline projects. Bulgaria’s government remains interested in South Stream and Nabucco, the Bulgarian energy official said, adding that there are matters to be discussed between Sofia and Ankara on Nabucco.
Bulgaria and Russia also disagree over the price for the transit of gas of South Stream through Bulgaria. Borisov recently asked Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller to increase the transit price, diplomatic sources said. But Konstantin Simonov, director of the National Energy Security Fund in Moscow, told New Europe on 5 May that Bulgaria should not play political games or Russia may build instead South Stream through Romanian territory.
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