Michaletos Ioannis
(RIEAS Junior Analyst, Coordinator for the World Security Network Foundation Southeast Office Europe)


In the 90’s the term Balkans was characterized by the international press as the region inflicted by a series of civil wars, embargoes, and ethnic hatred. In the 00’s the energy factor started to dominate the peripheral political scene and nowadays it seems that the energy game is moving to its completion; finding Russia empowered and eager to exploit its newly found accesses in the Western markets via Greece, Bulgaria and Italy.

A few days ago another grand deal (1) was signed between Athens, Sofia, Rome and Moscow, relating to the creation of a massive pipeline transferring natural gas from the Burgas port to Northern Greece and up to Southern Italy, named “South Stream” (2). The pipeline will have a total length of some 3,200 km and it will be pumped with some 30 billion cubic meters of gas each year from the Russian reservoirs.

Moreover the total cost will exceed 10 billion USD and it is interesting to note that it will affect negatively Turkey and Iran. The first country will be affected because the proposed pipelines will by-pass its territory, thus degrading to an extent its role in the regional energy politics. Teheran will also suffer from a partial exclusion from the European market that will be taped for the time being by Russia.         

The pipeline will traverse sub-water the Black Sea and end in Burgas port in Bulgaria. Afterwards it will split most probably in two parts; one heading towards Southern Austria or Northern Italy and the other one passing through Greece and terminating in the Otrando port in Southern Italy, just opposite the island of Corfu. This massive project will be commenced in late 2009 and will be financed by the Italian ENI Corporation (3) and the Russian energy giant, Gazprom (4).

The big winner from this new deal can be said to be Greece and the current Administration that under the Prime Minister Karamanlis, has emerged as a local ingenious player (5), especially after masterminding the other important oil pipeline, the Burgas-Alexandroupoli (6) and the natural gas pipeline from Turkey- ending in Italy that concludes Greece’s role as an important energy hub (7).

The announcement of this particular energy project was held in Istanbul in light of the intergovernmental conference of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (8) where the Greek Prime Minister met Turkey’s Erdogan and held talks of bilateral interest. Of course the development was viewed negatively by Ankara that views a considerable stall in its plans of acquiring a great share of the energy exports from East to West. The Turkish President Ahmet Sezer stated for the potential environmental challenge that the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline is; in parallel with a decision by the Supreme Court of Turkey to question in legal terms the Ecumenical dimension of the Orthodox Patriarchy in Istanbul (9). Despite the fact that no one can correlate these two events, suspicion has been raised in Greece for an indirect way of exerting pressure to Athens due to its initiatives in the energy sector.

On the other hand the American Administration seems displeased by the whole development, especially since Athens hasn’t consulted State Department’s Nicholas Burns, on his recent visit to the Greek capital last month (10). Washington is eager to secure the interests and economic feasibility of the Turkey-Greece-Italy pipeline that will transfer Azeri gas and of course resents any further advancement of the Russian exporters that have steadily gathered financial and political clout in Southeastern Europe and Germany over the past few years.

The culminations that resulted in the latest deal concerned a multiparty diplomatic negotiation table with Athens in the center. According to the leading Greek newspaper “To Vima” (11), it took almost half a year of continuous talks between Greeks, Italians and Russians before an agreement was reached. The most important part was the secrecy that characterized the negotiations, and it seems that there was a surprise for the parties excluded from the project.

The changing strategic landscape of the Balkans is centered on the energy developments, which in their turn affect either positively or negatively the domestic politics. Already Greece is experiencing a circulation of rumors relating to the opposition of Turkey in the new geo-economic environment and a recent fire in a natural reserve near Athens (12) apparently due to arson (13); is being blamed in the conflicting regional interests that are adamant in the change of balance of powers that it is occurring nowadays. Further, “To Vima” newspaper revealed in a recent article the possibility of “Political reprisals” against Karamanli’s Administration as the country is heading towards general elections and the incumbent government is trying to muster domestic support amid a multitude of interests often influenced by factors originating from abroad. A recent clue of the sensitivity the initiatives of the Greek government can have was the attack (14) a few days ago against the Minister of Culture, Mr. Voulgarakis, in central Athens on his way to sign an important cultural agreement between representatives of Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia (15). Under the terms of this accord, the four countries will take steps in securing the influence of the Christian Orthodox in the United Europe. In this case a group of unknown individuals attacked the entourage of the Minister in a classic “Hit & run” operation of the low-intensity urban warfare that is increasing alarmingly in the Greek capital (16).

In general the Balkan region promises yet a few world headlines, either in the political or economic field. The importance of the region is vast in comparison with its population, due to its use as a hub for the energy needs of the West and the Russian ambitions. Moreover the proximity to the Middle East and North Africa, reserve a truly unique placement for the Balkans in the strategic considerations of the global power-architecture cores in London, Washington, Moscow, Paris, Berlin and Beijing increasingly. The coming months will reveal more of the intrigues involved, and most importantly the winners and the losers of the “Energy game” of the 21st century. 


An article of the International Herald Tribune on the signing of the natural gas pipeline between Italy, Greece, Bulgaria & Russia

A report by the Eurasian Daily Monitor service of the Jamestown Foundation, around the South Stream energy project

The official website of the ENI Corporation

The official website of the Gasprom Corporation

News brief by the Athens News Agency on the Greek initiatives in the energy sector

A report by the RIA Novosti news service on the signing of the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline between Greece, Bulgaria & Russia

An article by the EU Business news service on the Turkish-Greek-Italian natural gas pipeline

The official website of the BSEC

An article by the International Herald Tribune on the decision by the Turkish court on the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Press release of the USA Embassy in Athens of the speech by Nicholas Burns for the 60-year anniversary of the Marshall plan


An article by the Vima newspaper on the possibility of political reprisals against the Greek government due to its initiatives in the energy sector 

Correspondence of the France Agency around the fire in the Parnitha natural reserve near Athens-Greece

An article by the Greek News Online service assuming possibility of arson. It has to be noted that various sources indicate towards arson, especially through TV & radio broadcasts in Greece.

Article by the Kathimerini newspaper around the attack against the Minister of Culture in Athens

Article by the Kathimerini newspaper, relating to the agreement signed by the Ministers from Orthodox countries in Athens.

Article by the International Herald Tribune on the increase of urban –warfare style attacks in Athens. It has to be noted that this article was published in late January and since then the attacks have multiplied.

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