Pipeline politics and democracy—machinations concerning Madeconia


Ever since Russia has moved the pipeline planned to transport gas across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, ‘South Stream’, to Turkey (‘Turkstream’), Western policy too has made a southward shift. Bulgaria had been pressured by the US to stop work on South Stream, and Russia then reacted with a change of route in response to these sanctions and others imposed on account of the Ukraine crisis. But now the new plan comes very close to the EU’s planned Nabucco pipeline, which also was directed against Russia but unexpectedly may end up carrying Russian gas after all.


Meanwhile Gazprom has bought back the shares in South Stream from the main European contractors (ENI, EDF and Wintershall), according to some sources to keep ENI subsidiary Saipem, a company specialised in laying underwater pipes, on board.

The planned Turkstream pipeline will cross the Black Sea to European Turkey, but then, instead of continuing to the north into Bulgaria, bend to the left through Greece and on to Macedonia and next to Serbia, which had originally counted on transport from Bulgaria but now again is part of the new project.

In April there were already negotiations between the foreign ministers of Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary about their participation in Turkstream, two days before prime minister Tsipras of Greece was to travel to Moscow.

However, in spite of the rebellious language of Greece, the Syriza government is no longer in a position to depart too far from the NATO and EU policies because of the debt situation it inherited. It is of some importance that according to a Reuters report, the US will exert pressure on the EU to keep Greece on board, because Athens otherwise might be forced to seek a closer relation with Russia after all. In addition the Tsipras government appears primarily concerned to keep its own left wing at bay and come to some sort of understanding with Brussels. Tsipras will not of course give up the pipeline because the transfer fees for gas are a welcome boon.

Yet now there have been unexpected incidents in Macedonia, the weakest link in the way stations on the planned route and it has been suggested that this may be related to the pipeline plans. Because in Macedonia there is a pro-Russian government in power and it is against its prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, that a revolt had erupted, including a tent camp in the central square of the capital, Skopje.

Gruevski’s conservatieve party has won three consecutive elections and enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament, so the space for opposition is limited. Hence a different form of opposition, one that is familiar from the so-called ‘colour revolutions’, of which the one in Maidan Square in Kieve is the most recent one.

In the Macedonian instalment the political crisis was inaugurated after the National Liberation Army (NLA) of separatist Albanians launched an attack on police states in the town of Kumanovo and its surrounding area. A 16-hours gun fight cost the lives of eight Macedonian policemen a nd 14 attackers. The NLA was never a really indigenous force but rather an arm of the Kosovo Liberation Army KLA, which was helped to power by NATO in the Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999. Their independent state has become a total failure and many inhabitants are meanwhile fleeing this paradise of organised crime.

The connections between NATO and the Albanians thus have a longer history and we assume that with the discontent in Kosovo and the continuing ethnic tensions in Macedonia it cannot have been too difficult to again make use of their services. Of course the true causes that have sparked the incidents will remain in the dark for some time to come. Even the West cannot create a movement out of nothing.

In fact it seems that the West is taking its hands off Ukraine, certainly after the visit earlier this month by John Kerry to Sochi, where he held discussions with Lavrov and Putin. But that does not mean that it will therefore abstain from trying to make life difficult for the Russians wherever the opportunity arises.

Kees van der Pijl

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