Slovenia’s agreement to sign on to the South Stream pipeline project has dashed hopes by the European Union to reduce dependency on Russian gas.
As the Slovenian and Russian energy ministers signed an agreement for the massive South Stream gas pipeline Saturday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looked on in satisfaction.
The approval of Slovenia, the fifth country to do so, brings Russia closer to locking its control over the European gas supply.
South Stream, which is estimated will cost 20 billion euros ($30 billion) to build and is expected to be completed by 2015, would run under the Black Sea to carry natural gas to western Europe.
The European Union has supported the construction of an alternative pipeline, known as Nabucco, in an effort to counter Russian monopolistic influence by importing gas from Caspian Sea nations like Azerbijan and Turkmenistan. That project has been stalled, however, by a lack of supply agreements.
EU leaders have been pushing for more independence from Russian natural gas since a dispute between Moscow and Kiev last January left many European homes without heat in the dead of winter.
About 80 percent of Russian gas currently passes through Ukraine, and Russia has claimed the South Stream line, which bypasses Ukraine, would ensure a smoother supply.
Another Russian project, Nord Stream, would also bypass Ukraine by piping gas to Germany beneath the Baltic Sea. Denmark, Sweden and Finland have all given their approval to the project, meaning construction could start as soon as next year.