The EU signed off on a watered-down energy agreement at the beginning of May that gives a boost to its pet gas pipeline project, the badly named Nabucco pipeline, which will run from the Caspian Sea region to Austria via Turkey, bypassing Russia in the process.
The Russians aren't happy about this project as it seeks to break their stranglehold over Caspian gas exports and have been pushing their alternative, the South Stream gas pipeline, which runs from Russia's Black Sea coast via Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia to Italy and Austria. At the EU meeting, Nabucco fans Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Egypt signed off on a deal that is supposed to see the pipeline pumping gas by 2014, but stopped short of actually committing themselves to a construction timetable, which the EU was hoping for.
The prospects for Nabucco actually being built remain uncertain because Turkey, a key transit country, has linked its support for the pipeline to its stalled efforts to join the EU. And the crucial question of where the pipeline will source its gas also remains largely undecided: apart from Azerbaijan, other countries that could potentially supply the gas - Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - refused to sign even the watered-down deal. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said scathingly of the pipeline: "If they want to bury a lump of metal in the ground, then they are welcome!"
Russia has the upper hand in the Black Sea region, and after Putin gave real concessions on the price it pays for Central Asian gas in 2008, most of the gas producers in the region are leaning towards Moscow and its South Stream project. The EU has so far largely failed in its stated goal of reducing its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying its energy supplies.
Even the name of the pipeline is bound to cause affront in Moscow. Conceived in 2002, it seems an Italian named the pipeline, as Nabucco is the Italian version of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar's name. Nebuchadnezzar has two claims to fame. Whoever named the pipeline was probably thinking of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which graced the city during his reign. Babylon was the capital of world's first superpower and went on to conquer most of the known world under king Darius, all of which will already make the Russians squirm in their seats a little. However, his other great historical act was to capture Jerusalem and drive the Jews into their biblical exile. Verdi's opera "Nabucco," which is said to be the work that established the Italian's reputation as a leading composer, tells a story of military aggression, betrayal and murder, as Nebuchadnezzar goes on the rampage in the Middle East and angers the gods with his arrogance. Not exactly the best stance to take when dealing with Moscow, who would rather see the pipeline sacrificed on the altar of Baal.
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