Finally, There’s a Gas Pipeline to Bypass Russia

From BUSINESSDAY

The confrontation between Ukraine and Russia is helping to create an opening for another former Soviet state that wants to become a bigger gas supplier to Europe.

Azerbaijan — nestled between Russia to its north and Iran to its south — hopes its geographic and geopolitical position will help persuade the Obama administration to offer more vocal support for a $45 billion natural gas pipeline that would connect the country’s Caspian Sea drilling operations to Europe via Italy.

The so-called Southern Corridor would bypass Russia, Europe’s major gas supplier, and Ukraine, the main route for existing pipelines carrying the fuel west. And while Washington is caught up in debates about hastening US gas exports to weaken Vladimir Putin’s energy dominance, Azerbaijan maintains that its pipeline is the only shovel-ready means of giving Europe an alternative supply in the next few years.

The pipeline has its share of challenges — including the region’s always-tricky geopolitics and the risk that Russia could set out to undermine the project if it senses a threat to its interests. Still, the pipeline has drawn interest from members of Congress and has received public backing from top officials in the State Department. Secretary of State John Kerry gave the project a brief public support this month at an energy security meeting in Brussels, while the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, Richard Morningstar, has been a big proponent of the pipeline since heading the Obama State Department’s special envoy for Eurasian energy.

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