By signing a recent memorandum of understanding with major energy companies from Italy and Greece, Russia has sent a strategically significant signal of its intention to explore reviving the South Stream natural gas pipeline project. Specifically, on February 24, Gazprom signed a memorandum with Italy’s Edison and Greece’s DEPA to supply Russian gas to Greece and Italy via the still undeveloped Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy (ITGI) pipeline.
Similar to South Stream, the path would involve a pipeline traversing the Black Sea and transiting through Bulgaria and Greece on its way to Italy. Russia has made clear this time, however, that it would only proceed with the approval of the European Commission. Opposition from the EC — as well as Bulgaria’s deference to this government body — ultimately led to the cancellation of the project’s previous iteration.
The likely motivation for this recent memorandum is the threat to what was supposed to be South Stream’s successor project, Turk Stream, which has been put at risk by the deteriorating relationship between Ankara and Moscow. The South Stream concept has also long had the support of the European business community, as would this new version of the project. Some reports indicate that this memorandum may also be designed to put pressure on those parties involved in determining the future of the other pathway for Russian gas to Europe under consideration, the Nord Stream 2 project that has been held up by EU review.
Any successor project to South Stream would carry the same strategic concerns as its predecessor, notably the increased dependence that it would create on Russian supply and the influence that would likely accompany such a large-scale, Russian-driven investment in the countries implicated by the pipeline and its offshoots.