Greece & Turkish Stream: ‘Athens in Russia v West, investment v debt dilemma’

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. (Reuters/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
To solve its financial problems Greece needs to have foreign investment which could come from Russia, but if the Greeks choose the West it means only future debt, says Patrick Henningsen, a geopolitical Analyst at 21stcenturywire.com.

The US is trying to push Greece to reject Turkish Stream, the pipeline that would deliver Russian gas to Europe via Greece. Meanwhile, David Pearce, the US ambassador to Greece, is reportedly going to leave his office a year earlier than planned. This comes amid bailout talks between Athens and the Troika being deadlocked.

RT:Why does the US have such a keen interest in the Turkish Stream project?

Patrick Henningsen: Traditionally, the West has always been incredibly interested in Greece and Russia relations all way back to WWII - the percentages agreement where Winston Churchill felt that he kept Greece within Europe by dividing up the influence between the Soviet Union throughout Eastern Europe and then allowing Europe to keep Greece. So it’s always been a pivotal point where East meets West.

READ MORE: US urges Greece to reject Turkish Stream, focus on Western-backed project

But there are a number of pipeline projects that are on the table, not just this one which is being proposed now, which is to bring Azerbaijani gas through Greece into the European market.

Russia has the competing pipeline project which it’s calling South Stream through Turkey, from the Black Sea through Turkey and via Greece into Europe.

There is also the Qatari-Turkey pipeline project, which is a non-starter because it would have to pass through Syria which is a contested area at the moment. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are behind Syria for that pipeline project.

And you have this big pipeline project which I believe is what’s driving these alternative scenarios - the friendship pipeline from Iran through Iraq through Syria and to the Mediterranean. And this is probably the key driver for the West or for the US-led “coalition” to want regime change in Syria to cut off any chance of that pipeline happening. This would be extremely profitable for all those three countries - Iran, Iraq and Syria - to reach the European market with what is a very rich natural gas field in Iran.

RT:Whose sales pitch is better here for the Greeks? Are they better off throwing their weight behind the Trans-Adriatic pipeline, like the US suggests, or working on the Turkish Stream project? What are the benefits for Greece in the Turkish Stream project, if any?

PH: I think Greece is in a situation where it has to choose between debt and investment. And if the Greeks are looking toward Brussels – they are looking toward a debt restructuring agreement and looking toward future debt.

Where are they going to get investment from? Certainly not from the US, not in a big way, but Russia could be a big source of foreign investment for Greece and it’s very important for Greece in the financial situation that it finds itself in.

Reuters/Bogdan Cristel

We also have, just south of Greece, Cyprus that was being courted by Russia for a bailout package only a couple of years ago for its financial woes. So Russia got interested in trying to get alliances within some of these European countries for their own interests.

Obviously Europe is targeting Russia with sanctions right now and that’s going to hurt the Russian economy. So any chance Russia has to get its influence into Europe it’s going to do it, everyone should expect it and that’s going to be the case.

RT:The US State Department envoy suggested that Russia’s interests aren’t aligned to the needs of the Greek economy. Is he right?

PH: What Amos Hochstein, the US special envoy for energy affairs, is proposing, what he is really doing here is a sales and marketing trip mainly for the US energy firms and other consortiums. But it’s not just on a business level, it’s about geopolitical influence. If the US can route energy and specifically natural gas via the Azerbaijan route that’s going to help the US in terms of its geopolitical goals in the region.

READ MORE: Gazprom, Ankara agree to start Turkish Stream gas deliveries in Dec 2016

As we know oil might be the form of energy that’s most dominant globally, but regionally it’s natural gas. And we’ve learnt this through the Ukrainian situation over the last 18 months. Natural gas is the dominant regional factor, it’s the game changer. The US realizes this and if it can win influence along these lines and push forward its own solution for another gas supply to Europe, it’s going to do that. There are a number of other competing consortiums in terms of nations teaming up to do exactly the same thing.

RT:Greece has got some big payments to make – do you think Washington and its EU partners could offer a financial incentive so they turn away from Turkish Stream?

PH: A pipeline project of that scale and that distance is going to take quite a while to come online. So in the short term it’s not going to make that much difference at all to Greece’s economic future.

However any sort of positive financial partnership with a country like Russia and immediate inward investment might make a big difference in the short term. So in terms of Greece, I would be looking toward Russia for cash. With regards to the US and what it’s pushing in that region in terms of energy making Greece a partner there - it’s difficult to say. I don’t see any big benefits in the short term, but maybe political benefits for Greece in terms of teaming up with the US somehow.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.