bne IntelliNews -
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico proposed on June 2 that his country can operate as a major conduit for Russia's planned Turkish Stream project, designed to circumvent Ukraine.
Visiting Moscow for the second time in a month, Fico told Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that the planned Eastring pipeline could hook up with Russia's proposed route to deliver 63bn cubic metres of gas exports to Europe at the Turkish border.
Slovak gas transit operator Eustream - 51% owned by Bratislava but managed by Czech-based EPH - originally proposed Eastring late last year. It said it would link the Balkans to European gas hubs to offer increased energy security should the Ukraine crisis cut deliveries to Southeastern Europe.
However, the company soon noted that the route would be reversible. That opens the opportunity for it to transport gas in the other direction, from Russia to European gas hubs, should Gazprom move on its plan to divert supplies.
Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria signed a memorandum on May 21 in which they expressed political support for the project. All those countries but Slovakia were set to host Gazprom's South Stream pipeline, which would have shipped a similar volume of gas to Turkish Stream, before Moscow scrapped it in December because of opposition from Brussels.
Slovakia, which earns huge revenue from shipping gas flows via Ukraine to the West, has since been scrambling to secure itself a role in any future scenario. Eustream stressed to bne IntelliNews earlier this year that it is hopeful of receiving EU funding for Eastring, although it noted at the same time that it could also work with Turkish Stream if necessary.
However, Brussels has dismissed Turkish Stream, saying it would break existing contracts between Gazprom and member states, which designate the point of delivery. But that doesn't appear to worry Fico, whose visit to Moscow follows his attendance at Russia's WWII commemoration on May 9. The PM was one of the few EU leaders to show up, with most refusing because of Russia's annexation of Crimea last year and the ongoing conflict in East Ukraine.
“We are proposing Russia a project which should be a common project of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia with the participation of the European Union. This is related to the Russian-Turkish pipeline, a project that will be realised as of 2016,” the Slovak PM said after meeting with Medvedev.
While Bratislava raised suspicion in the West early in the Ukraine crisis, Fico and his ruling Smer party has seemed far more supportive of the US and EU line in recent months. In particular, it has been instrumental in sending EU gas to Kyiv during its clash with Russia over pricing and debts for the fuel.
However, Fico has now thrust himself back into the centre of concerns over Moscow's well-practiced strategy of picking off individual EU states, especially those whose elites have strong connections with Russia.
In an interview in Bratislava just ahead of travelling to Russia, Fico once more cast aspersions on the EU's sanctions regime against Moscow, as well as comparing them to those imposed on Cuba. “The sanctions do not have the expected effect,” he said. “They harm both Europe and Russia.”
However, Bratislava was at pains to point out that Fico is no turncoat. The PM called Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko from his Moscow hotel room to assure him that Slovakia will observe the sanctions regime and that it will maintain its transit of gas deliveries, Slovak media reported.
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