Berlusconi pipeline deal claim 'exaggerated'

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s claim of personal success in sealing Russian-Turkish energy deals was exaggerated and surprised the Turkish government, a senior government source said on Friday.

Under the agreements signed on Thursday in Ankara, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won Turkey’s approval for the Moscow-backed South Stream gas pipeline to cross Turkish waters to Europe, countering rival European Union-sponsored plans, and signed deals to help make Turkey a key regional energy hub.

The deals had already been agreed when the Turkish government received an unexpected last-minute request from Berlusconi to attend the signing ceremony in Ankara with Putin and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the source said.

He said there was more surprise when it became clear that Berlusconi was claiming the accords as his personal success.

“This is the sort of thing that could be a problem diplomatically. But because it is Berlusconi it just made the two leaders smile,” the source said.

The Italian government website said Turkey’s participation in the South Stream gas pipeline was “a personal success for the [Italian] prime minister”.

“The agreement on building the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline represents another successful mediation by the Chigi palace [the Italian prime minister’s office],” it said.

The Turkish government source said it was an exaggeration to say that he played such a role in the agreements.

Russia wants to build the South Stream pipeline before the EU-supported Nabucco link from the Caspian—a scheme meant to cut Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.

The project to build a pipeline from Turkey’s Black Sea town of Samsun to the Mediterranean oil hub of Ceyhan, which Moscow is in turn supporting, is led by Italy’s Eni.

Russia, which supplies a quarter of Europe’s natural gas, wants to build gas supply routes quickly to bypass Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states after disputes with Kiev over transit payments disrupted gas flows to Europe.—Reuters

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