- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2021

A major new Russian pipeline designed to bypass Ukraine to supply southeastern Europe got a major symbolic boost on New Year’s Day as Serbian President Alexandar Vucic officially proclaimed the first nearly 250 miles of the Balkan Stream natural gas pipeline to be open for business.

Mr. Vucic called the event “a big day” for his country on Instagram, as Russia’s ambassador to Serbia and officials from the Russian construction firm looked on, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Friday.

The Serbian segment is a piece of the larger, 580-mile TurkStream pipeline, which crosses under the Black Sea and is designed to deliver Russian natural gas directly to customers in Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey. The TurkStream project complements the Russian-German NordStream pipeline project, now nearing completion in the Baltic Sea.

The Trump administration and many Central European countries have fiercely opposed the Russian pipelines, fearing they will give the Kremlin effective control of a large chunk of the European energy market.

The pipelines also would severely weaken the leverage of Ukraine, a U.S. ally, which has long been the dominant route for pipelines bringing Russian oil and natural gas to Western markets.

The U.S. government placed sanctions on both pipelines in 2019 and has pressured the government of Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel not to go through with the completion of the project.

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