US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (c) attends a meeting with the Federation of Northern Greek Industries in the port city of Thessaloniki, on September 28.
There is “good news on the energy front, good news on the ports – all the kind of things that can make life better for the people of Thessaloniki and the region,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in the northern port city during last month’s visit to the country, in comments that underscored the crucial role northern Greece is playing in America’s geopolitical energy plans.
What are some of these plans? Carrying out more American investments, particularly in the field of digital technology, and mobilizing the ports of Alexandroupoli and Kavala in a bid to wean Europe off Russian energy by channeling American natural gas via the northern Greek coast to the Balkans and Central Europe.
The Americans are raising a wall of geopolitical investments along the coastal front of the Haemus peninsula – with Thessaloniki at the center and Alexandroupoli as the flagship – aimed at stopping Russia’s influence from advancing to the Mediterranean Sea, but also Chinese expansion into the Balkans and further north via links being established on the northern Greek coast.
They are also creating the infrastructure for an alternative route – instead of the Bosporus Strait – to and from the Black Sea and the Caucasus, via Alexandroupoli, thus transforming the regional landscape of maritime and military transport.
Three major American investments – by Pfizer, Cisco and Deloitte – have already taken root in Thessaloniki, with Pompeo promising more which, if carried out, will transform the city into a vital digital and technological hub for the Balkans. The area, after all, has been calling for investments for years, with former mayor Yiannis Boutaris, among others, responding to the occasional complaint by American officials about the presence of Russian capital in the city: “The Russians are bringing in money; you guys haven’t invested a single dollar since the time of Esso Pappas” in the mid-1960s.
However, when it comes to competition with Russia, it’s all about connecting northern Greece to international energy networks via its ports. Pompeo said it clearly: “President Trump’s policy has been for all of Europe to increase its capacity to have a diversified set of energy sources, not to be dependent on Russia and Gazprom. This isn’t good, it’s not safe, it’s not secure, it creates risk, and frankly it costs people more money to heat their homes and to use other methods of energy.”
The US hopes this objective will be served by its investments in the ports of Alexandroupoli and, possibly, Kavala. The Americans have not hidden their interest in Alexandroupoli – with Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt saying that it should not be allowed to fall into “the wrong hands,” indicating that America will not allow Russian capital to penetrate as it did with the port of Thessaloniki – nor for Kavala. Indeed, during a visit to Thessaloniki port, when asked whether there is interest in Kavala as well as in Alexandroupoli, one American diplomat who declined to be named responded, “You don’t go into a shoe store and just buy the right shoe.”
According to the American plan, LNG will arrive in the form of ice blocks in Alexandroupoli, where it will be turned into gas again and then pumped into the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and then, in Komotini, via the IGB pipeline, funneled off to Bulgaria and into the European heartland.
As far as Kavala is concerned, the Americans also foresee the exploitation of a underground facility for storing LNG before it travels on to Europe.
“There’s another reason the Americans want Kavala port: so that no one else – meaning the Russians or the Chinese – can get it,” a source with knowledge of energy-related developments in the area told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity.
If all goes as planned, the shores of northern Greece will become the southern gateway for American natural gas to Europe, where 25% of gas and oil currently comes from Russia, which, of course, is using this dependence as a significant weapon in its geopolitical power games.
“The better your relations with Russia, the less you pay for energy… This policy has been used so aggressively, and Russia has such a hold over Europe’s energy needs that moves are afoot to blunt its impact,” British geopolitical analyst Tim Marshall writes in “Prisoners of Geography.”
This Russian energy ‘hold’ over Europe is what the United States is trying to loosen and ultimately break, to its own advantage of course, by pumping its own natural gas into the market and obstructing the construction of two more pipelines carrying Russian gas to the West: Nord Stream 2 via the Baltics to Germany and, now, TurkStream to the Balkans and Central Europe. It is not unlikely that both these projects will suffer the same fate as the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline, which was to bring Russian oil from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, or South Stream for Russian gas to the Balkans and beyond.
Based on the plan, the abundant American natural gas will be transported in liquefied form on tankers to the coasts of Europe, where terminal stations will be built in Poland and Lithuania to begin with, linking up to pipelines running into the heartland of Europe. Greece ties into this ambitious energy plan via a Southeast Europe terminal in Alexandroupoli and the existing TAP, which brings Azeri gas to the West.
These bonds are strengthened even further by the use of Alexandroupoli port for the passage of military forces and supplies to geostrategically sensitive locations in the Black Sea and the Caucasus, without having to pass the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits.
The US secretary of state’s visit to northern Greece came to underscore this significant interest in this geopolitically sensitive area and to express it far and wide.