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Russia Defiant, EU Says Pipeline's Demise Shows Need For Diversity

Moscow says European opposition to South Stream ultimately forced it to halt the project. (file photo)
Moscow says European opposition to South Stream ultimately forced it to halt the project. (file photo)

BRUSSELS -- The European Union said Russia's surprise abandonment of the South Stream pipeline project underscored the need for diverse energy sources, while Moscow vowed to find other ways to get its natural gas to paying clients.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Turkey on December 1 that Moscow was shelving plans for South Stream, a multibillion-dollar project to pipe gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and then deeper into the EU, which relies on Russia for almost a third of the natural gas it consumes.

The decision followed years of wrangling between the EU and Russia over energy supplies, which many in the West say Moscow uses as a geopolitical tool, and reflected severe strains in ties caused by Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"The decision that was taken and announced by Russia yesterday [December 1] tells us that it is urgent not only to diversify the routes but also the sources of energy for the European Union," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in Brussels on December 2.

Putin blamed the EU for the decision, saying European opposition to the project had forced the Kremlin's hand, and Russia repeated that accusation on December 2.

"You can't force people to like you," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said. "We will find other forms to achieve our plans in connection to supplying gas to other regions. The consequence should rather be calculated by those who, as a matter of fact, drove the project to the grave."

Brussels had accepted Moscow's plans to build the pipeline but said state-controlled Russian gas company Gazprom must comply with EU rules, in place since 2009, that aim to guarantee third-party access to pipelines and otherwise encourage free-market competition.

ALSO READ: End Of South Stream: Winners & Losers

Doubts about the project deepened in June when the EU said Sofia had breached the bloc's rules by the way it awarded contracts for its leg of the pipeline.

Putin suggested Bulgaria had ceded its sovereignty to Brussels, but European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva said Russia was using this as an excuse.

"The commission has always had a clear position on South Stream, which is that the construction of pipelines should correspond to EU rules," Georgieva said in Brussels.

She added that "this position is clear but it is in place for quite some time and it cannot be the reason for this decision" by Russia.

In Sofia, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev suggested the South Stream project could be saved if Russia were to follow the rules.

"I am pointing your attention to the fact that, if Russia agrees to comply with European law, I do not imagine anybody having objections to this project," he said. "At the same time, up until this moment, Russia has not given indications of its intention to comply with EU law."

He added that "It is absolutely clear that unlocking the South Stream project lies in the hands of the EU and Russia, and in Russia's intention to comply with European law."

EU Energy Commissioner Maros Sefcovic's spokeswoman, Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, said that "pipelines in Europe must be built and operated in line with EU legislation."

Asked whether Bulgaria or any other party might be entitled to EU compensation for lost profits, Itkonen said there was no legal basis for compensation for South Stream "or any other project that has been halted."

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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