Revitalizing the Southern Gas Corridor to Counter the Russian Energy Threat
The Ukraine crisis has once again trumpeted European vulnerability brought by over-dependence on Russian gas. Russian aggression, added to its gas supply posturing and actions more akin to blackmail than trade, demonstrate that it cannot be considered a reliable partner in developing mutual energy security. Indeed, at their meeting in late March 2014, European leaders concluded that efforts to reduce Europe's high gas energy dependency rates should be intensified and asked the European Commission to propose by this June a comprehensive plan for growing EU energy independence. Yet already running along Russia's soft underbelly is one of Europe's best options for natural gas diversification: the Southern Corridor.
The corridor is a series of already operating, planned, and prospective pipelines stretching from the natural gas and oil-rich Caspian Sea to European and global markets. From production to distribution, the commercial projects that comprise the Southern Corridor bring stunning strategic benefits for the United States and Europe already in its current form. Its first planned major extension to continental Europe will supply only about two percent of the EU's gas consumption from 2019, hardly a silver bullet in supply diversification. With modest extra efforts though, the corridor could become a truly vital part of Europe's gas diversification strategy.
For two decades, realization of what has become the Southern Corridor energy bypass of Russia has been a strategic project requiring U.S. diplomatic muscle, courage by former Soviet states bolstering their independence, and commercial terms for private investment. The first stage Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and South Caucuses gas pipeline consolidated cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey; freed Georgia and Azerbaijan from dependence on Russia for gas trade; fed Turkish economic growth; and provided added liquidity to global oil markets.
The second phase of the Southern Corridor will directly connect markets in continental Europe with Caspian basin gas without depending on Russia for transit. Just last
Neil Brown is non-resident fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.