South Stream pipeline to spur on Balkan reliance on Russian gas
* Pipeline to pump Russian gas via Black Sea into southeast Europe
* South Stream will avoid transit through Ukraine
* Balkans will have little alternative to Russian gas
By Ivana Sekularac and Michael Kahn
BELGRADE/PRAGUE, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Russia will take a step toward tightening its grip on Balkan energy supplies and strengthening its influence in southeastern Europe when construction starts on the Serbian leg of Gazprom's South Stream pipeline on Sunday.
Balkan countries, which receive the bulk of their natural gas deliveries from Russia's state-controlled Gazprom, have been eager to find new supply routes following repeated disputes between Russia and Ukraine that have shut down the main pipeline serving the region.
A pricing dispute in 2009 led Russia to turn off the spigots in freezing temperatures, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without heat and spurring governments to search for ways to avoid future disruptions. A renewed row this year has raised fears disruptions could happen again.
"It doesn't really solve any problems about diversity of sources but it does increase security of supply," Graham Freedman, a power and gas analyst at Wood Mackenzie in London, said of the South Stream pipeline. "From a political perspective it helps Russia maintain political influence over the region."
For Gazprom, the pipeline avoids troublesome transit through Ukraine and further locks in customers with few other options, bolstering its political influence in the Balkans at a time the European Union looks to diversify away from Russian supplies. Продолжение...