Putin relents on South Stream as Erdogan offers Turkish Stream promises

Russian president Vladimir Putin appeared to soften his position on the prospect of reviving the South Stream gas pipeline project after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even as the latter promised to begin construction on the rival Turkish Stream pipeline “as soon as possible”.

After declaring South Stream dead – during a visit to Ankara, no less, in December 2014, when he also announced the Turkish Stream project (in essence, the same pipeline, but redirected to Turkey’s European part, as opposed to Bulgaria) – Putin routinely blamed the European Commission and Bulgaria’s failure to issue the necessary construction permits as the reason for the pipeline’s demise.

There were no such recriminations after Putin met with Erdogan in St. Petersburg on August 9, however, with Putin acknowledging Bulgaria’s interest in reviving South Stream, but pointing out that after losing money when the project was abandoned, Russia now required iron-clad legal guarantees for the project to go ahead.

The EC objected to the pipeline because it breached the rules of the Third Energy Package regulations, which prevents vendors from directly owning infrastructure and requires that access to infrastructure is given to third parties, while Russia disagreed, arguing that intergovernmental agreements superseded EU law. Even Bulgaria’s pro-Russian government at the time, headed by Plamen Oresharski, did not side with Moscow in the argument, freezing the preparations to begin construction after the Commission opened infringement proceedings into the public tender to pick the construction contractors.

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(Photo: tccb.gov.tr)