Putin assures Serbia South Stream will go ahead
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday assured Serbia that the planned South Stream gas pipeline that should cut across the Balkans towards Europe will go ahead.
"We reviewed the energy sector in detail, including the construction of the Serbian part of South Stream," Putin said after meeting Serbian President Boris Tadic.
"I have been given assurances from Putin that the South Stream project will be realized in the coming years," Tadic told a joint press-conference.
The pipeline project, championed by Putin since 2007, would pump gas from southern Russia to the Balkans and onwards to other European countries, bypassing Ukraine with which Russia has strained relations.
It is seen as a rival to the European Nabucco project, which will bypass Russia to source suppliers around the Caspian Sea to ease Europe's dependence on Russian gas.
Officials of Russian gas giant Gazprom, building the pipeline with Italy's ENI, who accompanied Putin said that work on the Serbian part of the project should start in 2013. Moscow hopes that the first gas can flow through the pipeline in 2015.
According to local media, the building the 470 kilometer Serb portion of the planned 3,600 kilometers (2,240 miles) of the South Stream pipeline could cost up to 1.5 billion euros ($2.1 billion).
It will make Serbia an important regional energy power and also secure it a steady gas supply. Serbia was one of the countries hit hard when Russia turned off gas supplies to Ukraine, where they transit to Europe, after a row in 2009.
Tadic reiterated that the South Stream project was of "extreme importance" for Serbia.
Besides energy, Putin and Tadic also exchanged views on Kosovo. Moscow is a steadfast supporter of Belgrade's refusal to recognise the unilateral declaration of independence of its former province in 2008.
The visit is not all business, Putin will have time to relax in the evening when he is set to watch a friendly football match between Red Star Belgrade and his favourite Russian club, Zenit St Petersburg. Both teams are sponsored by Gazprom.
© 2011 AFP