South Stream Blues

South Stream is no more.

While Western government and press hacks on both sides of the Atlantic gloated over the cancellation of the trans-Balkans pipeline as Russia’s "defeat", they missed the absolutely crucial point of Monday’s announcement, made by Vladimir Putin during the state visit to Ankara: Russia will replace the project stalled by US puppet Bulgaria with a pipeline system going through Turkey.

Turkey? Russia’s historical rival in the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Balkans? Washington’s staunchest asset in the region since 1947, and the key player in all Western political and energy combinations in the Balkans, Middle East and Central Asia – that Turkey? Indeed.

One can almost see the Imperial bureaucrats in Washington and Brussels stop midway through their mutual back-patting when the implications of this begin to dawn on them.

Gas Games

Understanding the economic and political importance of South Stream requires the knowledge of several basic facts. Due to a combination of economic, environmental and political factors, much of the EU relies on natural gas for energy. More than half of that gas is supplied by Russia, via pipelines going through the Ukraine.

After the 2004 "Orange Revolution," the US-installed regime in Kiev repeatedly interfered with the supply of gas, holding the EU hostage to its own unpaid bills, culminating in the EU freezing through a nasty cold snap in 2009. At that point, Moscow decided to ensure its exports would reach Europe by bypassing the Ukraine. The first bypass pipeline, "North Stream," came on line in September 2011 and began supplying Germany. "South Stream" was supposed to run under the Black Sea, through Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary to Austria.

Seeing this as a threat to US dominion over Europe, Washington launched rival efforts. The first, "Nabucco", never really took form and was canceled in 2013. The other, Trans-Adriatic (TAP) was supposed to pipe Azerbaijani gas through Turkey, Greece and Albania to Italy.

Meanwhile, Brussels bureaucrats were throwing up obstacles to South Stream even as construction officially began in 2013, telling Moscow its treaties with Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary violated EU laws (passed after the fact). Why was the EU working against its own energy security? Control, power, profit, subservience to Washington – the reasons are legion.

To disrupt the pipeline, the Empire put pressure on three Balkans countries it would run through: Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary. Budapest resisted. Belgrade stalled, caught between the desire of its quislings to obey Empire’s demands and the clear-cut insanity of double-crossing Russia. In the end, it was Sofia that rolled over, citing EU laws to halt work on the pipeline.

Erdogan Defects?

No doubt the Brusselcrats and Bulgarians alike expected Russia to give in to their extortion, having already invested much in the project. Putin’s announcement canceling the pipeline came as a shock. Right away, the media began to spin the news to fit the official narrative of Russia inevitably collapsing before the ever-victorious and perpetually righteous West. Yet very few observers have bothered to note that Putin’s abandonment of South Stream was no defeat, but a grand strategic victory.

One of the poorest countries in the EU – admitted with Romania at Washington’s insistence in order to close off the Balkans to possible Russian influence – Bulgaria has just lost a major potential source of revenue, with no replacements in sight, and been exposed as a spineless lackey of Brussels and Washington. Hungary will hurt, but its government showed some backbone in the crisis, which might help it withstand attempts at "regime change" via remote-controlled revolutionary mobs. Serbia remains a battleground between the occupying Atlaticists and the vast majority of the population wanting nothing to do with the EU, NATO and the Empire.

Ah, but Turkey – the jewel in Empire’s crown, the linchpin of Washington’s "containment" policy towards Russia since the dawn of the original Cold War – has now effectively defected to the Russian camp. This may or may not mean any number of things – from the end of Turkish enmity for the government in Damascus, backed by Moscow, to the shift in tone of Turkish aspirations in the Balkans and Central Asia from hostile to Russian interests to being complementary instead. Yet even if none of that came to pass, the energy deal with Russia has at the very least decisively disrupted all Western plans to build oil and gas pipelines bypassing Russia.

Interesting Times for the Balkans

The Russo-Turkish rapprochement may also alter the political dynamics in the Balkans. Turkey has been a staunch backer of Bosnian Muslims, and later Albanians. Its current Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, caused a scandal in 2009 when he spoke with nostalgia of the Ottoman era – viewed by the Serbs, Greeks, Romanians and Bulgarians as the dark time of slavery and occupation. Turkey also tried to assert a special role in Bosnia, to the point where President Erdogan claimed in 2012 that the late Bosnian Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovic, "gave him Bosnia" on his deathbed, as an "Ottoman heirloom."

At the time, many observers were convinced that Ankara had the blessing of Washington for such behavior. However, since nothing substantial ever came of it, it is possible the Turks were acting on their own and Washington was trying to rein them in. That would certainly explain at least some of Ankara’s frustrations with its "Western partners" that may have propelled it into Russia’s embrace. It remains to be seen whether the new-found business relationship with Moscow can overcome centuries of ethno-religious conflict and moderate Turkey’s aggressive stance in the Balkans.

Meanwhile, the cancellation of South Stream has done little to calm the ongoing turmoil in Serbia. During the visit to Belgrade in early November, Albania’s PM insisted the Albanian-occupied Serbian province of Kosovo was an independent state, and backed the Albanian separatists in the south of Serbia.

Not long after that, the "War Crimes Tribunal" provisionally released Serbian political Vojislav Seselj, who has been imprisoned without a verdict for 12 years now, on spurious charges of allegedly inspiring war crimes with his speeches. Lest one think the decision was motivated by justice or humanitarian concerns, Seselj is reported to be terminally ill with cancer; the Tribunal basically released him to avoid embarrassment of yet another Serb dying in its dungeons.

His return, however, has caused panic in the current government – run by his former associates from the Radical Party who turned coat in 2009 and re-branded as Empire-backed "Progressives." Government-loyal media have been blaring for weeks that the West released Seselj to "bring down [Prime Minister] Vucic." Meanwhile, the neighboring Croatia made a huge show of protesting Seselj’s release, claiming he was a "war criminal" and sponsoring an EU resolution against Serbia for tolerating his existence.

The demise of South Stream was just icing on the crisis cake.

Fatal Friendships

Still, the fate of Serbia, Bosnia or Bulgaria is of lesser import right now than the explosive fact of Turkey’s defection from Empire’s camp. That Ankara was so irritated by its Western "partners" to turn to its biggest historical rival instead is a profound commentary on the quality of "partnership" with the Empire. Try as it might, the Empire can no longer control the media narrative: thanks to the Internet, nations around the world have been able to see for themselves the consequences of Empire’s "democracy-building," from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya, Syria and the Ukraine. A desert called peace, indeed!

Now the question is whether the Empire will take this latest development sitting down, or will it go after Ankara with a vengeance.

"The word will go out to the nations of the world that it may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal," Henry Kissinger warned Richard Nixon in 1968. He did not mean to be prophetic; it was meant as a warning not to overthrow a client regime in Vietnam. But it turned out to be truthful nonetheless.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.