OPINION

The pipeline game

The movement of oil from the Caspian Sea and Central Asia to the West has been the long-running subject of a geoeconomic and geopolitical game. The US wants to bypass Russia, subsidizing the construction of pipelines that will run through Turkey and Georgia. Except for the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which carries Azeri oil straight to the eastern Mediterranean, most of the Russian and Kazakh oil is transported across the Black Sea. The question is how to reach the Mediterranean given the tanker restrictions at the Bosporus Strait. Greece has long proposed the relatively short Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, which would bypass the strait. Construction has stalled and thus a number of alternative proposals have been made. Ankara has proposed an even shorter route that would bypass the strait, sending crude via eastern Thrace, while Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania recently approved a project to build a pipeline linking Burgas to Vlore, bypassing the Aegean by sending oil straight to the Adriatic. The project has been promoted by the US-based AMBO consortium and is, of course, backed by Washington. This does not guarantee its construction, as the cost would be high and the region remains volatile. Still, the plans are indicative of our neighbors’ efforts to bypass Greece. This was also underscored by a trilateral initiative to build a big road network linking these three countries and reaching all the way to Istanbul – a project made redundant after the construction of the Egnatia Highway. Beyond the formulations and fantasies of our northern neighbors, one must take into account the Americans, whose influence now extends over Bulgaria, FYROM and Albania. Competition over energy routes also has a political dimension, but Greece has nothing to lose should the Burgas-Vlore pipeline get under way.