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Nabucco Pipeline Gets the Green Light

By Mitko Grigorov

It was a cold winter, especially in several European countries. When Russia stopped pumping natural gas through Ukraine in January because of price disputes, several EU members found that their reliance on Eastern European partners made them surprisingly vulnerable. The lack of natural gas in the middle of the winter summoned the political will to find a solution and reduce the EU's dependence on Russian gas.

Last Monday, four EU members and Turkey signed an agreement to build the Nabucco pipeline, which is scheduled to begin delivery of eight billion cubic meters of gas per year in 2014 and over 30 billion cubic meters once fully functional. The 3300 kilometer (2000 mile) pipeline has an estimated cost of about €8 billion ($11 billion). Once operating in full capacity, Nabucco will deliver 5% of all gas consumed in the EU. Currently, about 20% of all natural gas used in Europe comes from Russia and 80% of this passes through Ukraine. While Nabucco will not make the EU entirely independent of Russian gas, it will surely give the union's members more breathing room.

The European members that signed the Nabucco agreement - Austria, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria - were among those worst hit by the energy crisis this winter. The gas cutoff left thousands of families in Bulgaria, the EU's poorest member, without central heating. Romania, Austria and Hungary also reported sharp drops in supplies. The U.S. criticized Moscow about the crisis, especially Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The gas shortages combined with the then-recent war in Georgia threatened to escalate the energy crisis into a full-blown political crisis. It is not surprising that in such conditions the Nabucco project, which had been sluggish since 2002, was suddenly given a green light.

Some critics say that EU's political zeal in signing the agreement borders fanaticism as it is not entirely clear where all the 31 billion cubic meters of natural gas will come from to fill the pipes once Nabucco is fully built. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iraq and even Syria, largely considered a rogue state by the U.S., have assured the EU they will supply the gas, but whether they will be able to live up to their promises remains yet to be seen. Russia, of course, staunchly opposes the Nabucco agreement. Moscow's representatives were invited to participate in the signing ceremony in Turkey's capital Ankara, but declined the invitation. Only the future will show, however, how the Nabucco project will develop and more importantly what the Kremlin will do about it.

Mitko Grigorov is a graduate student in European Studies at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

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