The distressing monotonous blackouts in Egypt hitting hard both industry and households highlighted the growing energy deficit the country of 87 million has encountered last year. Experts qualify it as the worst energy crunch in decades. By the end of 2014, Egypt has accumulated a 5 megawatt deficit which is comparable to consumption of a medium-size European nation. Egypt used to be energy self-sufficient by 95%. The latest verified data (2009) showed the largest country of the Arab world had 18.2 billion barrels of crude oil and about 2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas in reserves. The growing domestic demand negatively affected exports. Since August 2013, gas exports have declined in value by 86% and amount to a mere $26.1 million. In the same time span (until August 2014), gas production has also went down from 3.5 to 3.04 thousands of tons. With the main buyers being Israel and Jordan, the export trunk pipelines were subject to terrorist attacks by the unruly nomad tribes in the Sinai desert, raising shipment risks and insurance premium.

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European energy experts view the gearing up of Gazprom-driven Turkish Stream (the strange descendent of the collapsed South Stream) with a pinch of salt. They back up their doubts citing a multitude of commercial, technical and bureaucratic hurdles which could easily derail the project. In a recent interview with INYT, Professor Alan Riley of the City University London pointed out that the offspring (Turkish Stream) could be even more problematic for Russia than its predecessor (South Stream). As proof, Professor Riley referred to the possibility that Russian gas, which would be coming through Turkey to Greece, could well be channeled further on to Ukraine. Noteworthy, the European Commission has repeatedly voiced its negative estimation of the very concept of Turkish Stream while the EU Energy Union VP Maroš Šefčovič stated once and again that this project was “legally and economically unviable.” Brussels sent an unequivocal message to potential end-buyers in South East Europe that the best option to ensure energy security was the development and prospective “expansion of the Southern Corridor.

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Yemen, a poor state stranded in a forgotten corner of the Arab Peninsula, has turned to be the center stage of a tug of war between two regional superpowers, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Different groups with warring sponsors have launched a merciless struggle in that arid zone. The country has been turned into a symbol of everything that is going wrong in the Arab world as a repercussion of the Arab Spring.The main protagonist is a Houthis movement. The Houthis are followers of a moderate branch of Shiite Islam, called Zaydi, and they constitute 30% of Yemeni population, with their stronghold located in the North of the country. In September 2014, they launched an attack on central power; in January-February 2015 seized control of the capital city, Sanaa, and ousted the President and his Government.

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The cancellation by Russian Gazprom of the South Stream pipeline project combined with its decision to stop gas transit through Ukraine after 2019, claimed to be an unsecure route, places the Balkan countries, and not only them, in a rather delicate position. Now they are forced to look for options on how to secure energy supplies in less than five years. So far, Russian gas is being delivered to the Balkans through Ukraine. The previous project, supported by a dozen of European energy companies, was to build an alternative route, South Stream. The pipeline capacity was supposed to reach 63 bcm/year. It was planned to start near Anapa, on the Russian coast of the Black Sea, cross the Black Sea underwater, come out on the shores of Bulgaria near Varna, thus entering the EU energy market space. The on-shore part had to cross Bulgaria, which would be transformed in an important gas hub, then go to Serbia, Hungary and finish in Baumgarten (Austria), where a huge underground gas storage facility is located. From Austria gas could have been delivered to almost everywhere in Europe, especially to Eastern and Central Europe, and to Italy as well. Additional embranchments were previewed to go to some other destinations in the Balkans. 

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The jihadists’ drive to build a statehood in various parts of the world have been futile so far with the explicit exception of the Islamic State (IS) which remains a serious factor in the wider Mesopotamia region. Attempts to copy-paste that coup in the Muslim world are doomed to remain a marginal phenomenon (see Nigeria: IS’ model is proliferating, EIRA, Volume 3, Issue 2, February 2015). Not only in Nigeria Muslim radicals from Boko Haram movement are trying to place a large territory under their control and administration, where Shariah law and brutal fanatics determine the agenda of everyday life. The geography of that phenomenon is much wider. Boko Haram is establishing its grip of power over the poorest, isolated region of the oil rich Nigeria, in the Sahel zone. The shabab control a part of a failed state, Somalia with no particular strategic interest, although they are behind the surge of modern piracy in that critical aquatoria with key transportation sea-lanes. However, the combined international navy has gained experience to counter that threat quite efficiently.

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In the aftermath of the invalidation of South Stream, cancelled by President Putin in the name of Gazprom, the European Union and the national governments of SE European countries accelerated the debate on the viable alternatives to Russian gas. Reiterating the ‘trump card’ argument that the essential remedy amounts to the “diversification” of energy sources, the EU, with full diplomatic support from the US and conditional support on the part of IMF, displayed an assorted menu of options for the energy-poor region. Albeit the indisputable appeal of the solutions proposed to SE Europe, the expediency of the offerings is far from being apparent. The solutions seem to rely more on blind faith than on economic rationale. Romania looks like the least vulnerable element in this sextet of SE European nations (Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia Croatia, and Greece). Only 3.5 bcm out of 15 bcm of natural gas are imported from Russia.

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Συνέντευξη του Υπουργού Περιβάλλοντος και Ενέργειας, Γιώργου Σταθάκη στο www.liberal.grκαι στους δημοσιογράφους, Γιώργο Φιντικάκη και Βασίλη Γεώργα
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