The American strategic error in the Mediterranean

As tensions between the Kremlin and NATO over Ukraine highlight Europe’s strategic dependence on Russian gas, a critical gas pipeline crossing the Mediterranean finds itself at the center of competing geopolitical forces . The EastMed pipeline was supposed to diversify and increase European gas supplies, thereby enhancing the continent’s energy security.

The pipeline, more than 1,100 miles long and costing more than $7 billion, has been given “special project” status by the EU and has been hailed by the United States as a boon to energy independence for the EU. the EU. But in early 2022, the Biden administration did an about-face, informing its allies that it no longer supported the Strategic Pipeline for environmental reasons.

The project was designed to bring some 20 billion cubic meters (bcm) of dry natural gas from the offshore fields of Israel and Cyprus, through Greece, to Italy and Bulgaria – much to the chagrin of Turkey and of Russia, both excluded from the project. As Europe suffers from historically high gas prices and the United States scrambles to sanction Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, EastMed is about to be killed.

This is a disastrous decision that jeopardizes European security and opens the door to a new Russian energy hegemony on European gas markets. It should be reversed.

The EastMed was announced in 2016 and several agreements on this subject have been signed between the countries concerned. The United States was present at the 3+1 meetings in 2019 which outlined plans to complete the €6 billion ($6.8 billion) line by 2025. However, with Turkey playing interference and the plummeting global economy during the first COVID outbreak, enough funding was never secured.

The United States backs down

On January 11, the US State Department withdrew its historic diplomatic support for the pipeline, saying the massive gas project was antithetical to the president. Joe BidenJoe BidenCongress may miss Senate shutdown deadline for briefing on Ukraine and Russia on Thursday As Social Security field offices reopen, it’s time to expand and revitalize them MOREclimate goals.

State Department senior energy security adviser Amos Hochstein said – prior to his appointment – ​​that he would be “extremely uncomfortable with U.S. support for this project…why would we build a fossil fuel pipeline between the EastMed and Europe when our whole policy is to support new technologies… and new investments to go green and become clean? »

Hochstein said, “By the time this pipeline is built, we will have spent billions of taxpayer dollars on something that is not only obsolete but contrary to our collective interest between the United States and Europe.”

US officials now believe that priority should instead be given to interconnecting the electricity networks of countries in the region.

Despite these claims, the United States failed to understand the potential security issues that cutting the pipeline could present.

Victory for Russia

Amid the worst energy crisis in Europe since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, the US reversal on EastMed only reinforces Russia’s energy dominance.

Russia supplies about a third of the gas and crude oil imported by the European Union, and even more for Germany. Last year, Russia pumped around 128 billion m3 of gas to Europe, the lion’s share of which transited through Ukraine (more than 40%).

Europe’s hasty attempts to switch from hydrocarbons to renewables, which the Biden administration so enthusiastically supports, have left it more vulnerable than ever to Russian energy blackmail. Not only are countries like Germany burning more coal to fill the void left by insufficient storage capacity for wind and solar power, but critical national supplies of natural gas are dwindling. The reserves are already half empty.

Moscow celebrates.

The planned completion of Nord Stream 2 would provide major EU economies such as Germany and France with abundant and affordable natural gas. But those supplies would be unreliable – and therein lies the rub: Europe’s increased reliance on Russian pipelines gives the Kremlin an unprecedented level of foreign policy leverage. Germany’s reluctance to join other NATO members in sanctioning Russia over a possible invasion of Ukraine is the first proof for all. Today, Russia is knocking on Ukraine’s door.

The Kremlin has deliberately and strategically built gas transit routes over the past few years that bypass Ukraine: if Ukraine is no longer needed as a natural gas transit hub, Russia can invade without disrupting energy sales to the west (and therefore its energy revenues).

Qatar to the rescue?

As the international community braces for a potential conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the United States is opening talks with other gas exporters to avert an all-out energy crisis. Natural gas giant Qatar could be that solution if it redirects a higher percentage of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the EU. Biden has invited the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to the White House to lead the gas talks.

The EastMed heist alienated Israel, which initially backed Turkish involvement in the project to assuage Greek concerns about a potential regional conflict. However, Ankara has made it clear that competing claims over gas reserves in Cyprus’ territorial waters make the project dead on arrival, saying any pipeline project across the eastern Mediterranean is doomed.

Turkey occupied northern Cyprus in 1974 and supports the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, while not recognizing the government of Cyprus. It has sent warships to support energy exploration in Cyprus territorial waters. The US abandonment of EastMed benefits Turkey’s regional security policy, with Erdogan saying the project cannot go ahead without Turkey’s participation.

The path to follow

As the United States looks for ways to support European energy independence in this unfolding crisis, the flip-flop on EastMed is a political failure.

First, the EU has effectively abandoned the German policy Energiewende (energy transformation), declaring natural gas (and nuclear energy) “green”. He acknowledged that a complete transition to renewable energy is currently impossible. Second, pulling the rug out from under EastMed is inconsistent with the US goal of diversifying Europe away from Russian gas. It also serves as a blow against allies Greece and Israel, while Turkey stands to benefit from renegotiations of pipeline operations.

The United States must do more than open talks with Qatar – it must recognize that piped gas and LNG are needed to protect Europe from the Gazprom habit. The Biden administration should restore support for the EastMed pipeline – and get Israel, Turkey and Greece to work together on its implementation.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and Director of the Energy, Growth, and Security Program at IInternational Tax and Investment Center. He is the author of “Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis”.

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