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Pipeline politics in shadows of EU-Russia summit

While the 18 May summit failed to move EU-Russia relations forward, Moscow made progress on a new pipeline project in Central Asia, with considerable implications for the security and diversity of the EU's energy supply.

On 11 and 12 May, only days before the EU-Russia summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, convincing them to begin construction of a Caspian shore pipeline connected directly with Russian gas networks. At the same time, parallel discussions were held in Krakow, Poland on the creation of a trans-Caspian pipeline to bypass Russia. Initially, the only discussions on pipelines were to take place in Poland, which had scheduled a summit with four Central Asian countries: Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan,Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Shortly before the summit, however, Vladimir Putin succeeded in convincing Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev not to attend the Polish summit. The result of this move was to limit Kazakh commitments to the trans-Caspian pipeline, while guaranteeing increased Russian access to Caspian Sea gas. The coinciding energy talks are further evidence of what some observers have dubbed a 'pipeline war' in the region. Pipelines have also contributed to divisions within the EU. Poland has strongly criticized Germany for supporting a major Baltic Sea pipeline because the project will bypass Poland, leading to fears of a future Russian gas cut-off.

According to American Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, the new Russian deal with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is "not good" from the perspective of Europe's energy security strategy. EU dependency on gas imports from Russia is currently at 40% and is expected to rise considerably in the coming decades unless supply sources are diversified and/or greater emphasis is placed on locally generated renewable sources of energy.

In a related development, the Commission on 11 April published a Communication on co-operation with the Black Sea region, particularly in the field of energy. The Black Sea could serve as the foundation for a future pipeline that would bring gas from the Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan to the EU. Two new EU member states, Bulgaria and Romania, border on the Black Sea. (