Russia officially began construction this weekend of a Macedonian pipeline that will form the key component of the forthcoming Balkan Stream, the modified replacement of South Stream. The rest of the pipeline must logically go through Greece and connect to the planned Turkish gas hub in Eastern Thrace in order to become functional, but no agreement on this has yet been made between Moscow and Athens. Greece stands to gain enormous economic and political dividends for its participation in the forthcoming project, and it’s worthwhile to explore three of the most important benefits that this would entail:
Revenue Stream And Investment Magnet
The most immediate effect of the Balkan Stream pipeline would be that Greece would receive a guaranteed revenue stream for providing gas transit through its territory. The millions of euros that this would entail each year could easily be reinvested in other economic and infrastructural projects or used to strengthen the social sector. Additionally, Greece can expect continued Russian investment to pour into the country, which could reinvigorate its economy and compensate for the outflow of EU capital in recent years.
Resolution Of Regional Issues
Greece has reached a dead-end in its negotiations with Macedonia and Turkey over their respective conflicts with Athens, with the former being the name issue and the latter being Northern Cyprus. If all three countries cooperate through the Balkan Stream format, then Moscow would become a guarantor of sorts for Southern Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean stability, since anything short of positive relations between all three transit members could spell disaster for the project’s long-term viability. Thus, it’s realistic that Russia could take the lead in restarting diplomatic talks over these topics and playing the role of an objective mediator that has a stake in all sides’ lasting stability.
The East-West Bridge
Just as Austria was a bridge in bringing together both sides of the ‘Old Cold War’, Greece can do the same during the new one. It would be the first EU member on the Balkan Stream’s path (Hungary and other prospective countries are further downstream), meaning that by keeping one foot in each camp, it can balance between them in order to negotiate and procure the greatest benefits from both sides. This multipolar policy could replace the failed unipolar one of the past few decades that left Greece absolutely dependent on its unreliable Western partners.
In order to transform these ideas into a reality, what is needed now is for Greece to publicly proclaim its interest in the project and enter into negotiations with Russia for construction of its portion of the pipeline. Seeing as how pivotal this project is for Russia, it’s likely that Greece can enact significant economic concessions from its future partner, which could possibly include a debt financing plan that would replace the one mandated by Brussels and allow the country to pay back its prior loans with dignity. Now is the perfect time for Greece to begin exploring this possibility with Russia, and if conducted quickly enough, it could lead to Russian financial assistance just in time for when the EU-IMF debt deal expires in June.
The article was prepared for the Greek version of Russia Beyond the Headlines e-paper, published in English exclusively by ORIENTAL REVIEW.