Russia’s plan to channel gas directly to Europe has moved a step closer to reality after Slovenia put pen to paper on the South Stream deal.The project is funded by Russian state energy giant Gazprom and its Italian counterpart Eni. The Kremlin has touted it as a more reliable route for its gas exports to Europe. It bypasses Ukraine and Belarus, where price disputes have in the past led to gas shortages. From 2015 South Stream is scheduled to take gas into the EU via Bulgaria. A northern branch ends up in Italy via Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and eventually Austria. A southern route takes the gas through Greece and under the Adriatic Sea to Italy. Only Austria has yet to put its name to the deal. The South Stream project was drawn up to rival the European Union’s Nabucco pipeline, which will bypass Russia and is meant to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian gas.