An EU (and NATO) member just bolstered Putin's push to re-draw the European gas map

Putin hungaryREUTERS/Laszlo BaloghRussian President Vladimir Putin discuss with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) before a joint news conference in Budapest February 17, 2015.

Last month, Russia announced that it will shift all its natural gas flows to Europe via Turkey, instead of Ukraine, in an effort to counter its decreasing influence over the European gas market.

“Our European partners have been informed of this and now their task is to create the necessary gas transport infrastructure from the Greek and Turkish border,” Alexei Miller, head of Russian state oil giant Gazprom, said in a statement.

And now an EU (and NATO) member has bolstered Moscow’s push to re-draw the European gas map.

“It would be a good investment for Hungary if it makes sure that Turkish gas goes through Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia to Hungary,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said following negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Budapest on Tuesday. 

The Moscow Times reports that a deal hasn’t been signed and the price of gas hasn’t been disclosed. Nevertheless, Orbán said the agreement has been made in principle and Putin seemed to agree.

“If they [the European Commission] don’t hinder us, then in essence we could realise part of the former South Stream project via Turkey,” Putin said.

The move makes economic sense to Budapest since Russia is Hungary’s biggest trading partner outside the EU and supplies most of its gas. Politically, it’s the latest win for Putin near Ukraine’s borders and a blow to a unified European response to Russian aggression.

“We are convinced that locking Russia out of Europe is not rational,” Orbán said. “Whoever thinks that Europe can be competitive, that the European economy can be competitive without economic cooperation with Russia, whoever thinks that energy security can exist in Europe without the energy that comes from Russia, is chasing ghosts.”

Furthermore, the countries prospectively involved in the pipeline plan have increasingly cozy relationships with Putin. (The cancelled South Stream pipeline had been slated to pass through both Serbia and Macedonia, which are not in the EU).

Last February, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov told Russian media that “the partnership with the Russian Federation is crucial for us” since the South Stream pipeline was “expected to provide the country’s energy stability in the coming decades.”

“The only thing I love more than Russia, is Serbia,” Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic said on a visit to Moscow in December. 

Putin serbiaREUTERS/Vasily MaximovSerbian President Tomislav Nikolic helps Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) with his jacket during a military parade to mark 70 years since the city’s liberation by the Red Army in Belgrade October 16, 2014.

And geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer recently noted that the signals from the new government in Greece  — including “comments regarding sanctions [over Ukraine], as well as his meeting with the Russian ambassador to Greece within hours of taking office — demonstrate that he is willing to engage differently with Moscow.”

Politics in Europe are the top global risk for 2015, and Putin’s emerging gas plan is making the situation even more difficult for EU leaders.

Elena Holodny contributed to this report.

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