A surprising Russian proposal to construct a new natural gas pipeline from Russia to Europe via Turkey in order to bypass both Ukraine and Bulgaria is still one of leading issues being discussed in the relevant capitals.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cancelation of the South Stream that had been planned to carry 63 bcm natural gas to European markets via the Black Sea and Bulgaria led to the so-called Turkish Stream, with plans to station a gas terminal on the Turkish-Greek border. Many government sources and pro-government analysts argue that this will contribute to Turkey’s efforts to become an energy hub in the coming years. In this column on Dec. 3, I tried to analyze why Turkey has to be cautious in making this deal with Russia.
This column, however, will argue that the realization of the Turkish Stream would nix the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) project, which is in fact much more important for Turkey and its allies in the Caucasus. The Turkish Stream, however, is extremely important for Russia, which felt cornered after a series of sanctions from the EU and the U.S.
To make the picture clearer, let’s cite three important developments that occurred last week. The first was a visit by a high-level delegation from the EU led by Federica Mogherini, the new foreign policy chief in Brussels, accompanied with EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn. As reported in the press, the EU officials clearly urged Turkey to better align its foreign policy with Brussels, recalling that its recent deals with Moscow undermine the sanctions imposed on the country. That also includes energy policies.
The second development was about the details of the Turkish Stream, which were revealed by Russian Deputy Energy Minister Kiril Molodtsov. Molodtsov said the pipeline was planned to be ready by late 2017 – in just three years – after which Russia will be able to transport around 50 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, however, informed that this $20 billion-worth project could start to function in either 2019 or 2020, and that they were still working on its technicalities. He also underlined that the project would not be only a transit gas pipeline, but it would be distributing to European markets.
Yıldız’s statement came a few days after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the deal with Russia was non-binding and required the completion of more talks on the details. However, out of Yıldız’s words, one can see that Turkey has already begun negotiations on the nature of a final deal with Russia with a strong announcement of determination to accomplish the project. Yıldız has also said Turkey is ready to host any pipeline crossing through its soil, in reference to the Cyprus reserves.
However, the issue is not as simple as Yıldız puts it. Turkey’s neighborhood is full of energy source countries and there will always be a competition and clashes of conflict between these countries in their efforts to market their reserves. Plus, Turkey cannot look at the issue solely from an opportunistic perspective, as pipelines and energy corridors make up an important part of the strategic planning of all of regional countries.
This aspect was visible during the recent tripartite meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan in Turkey’s eastern city of Kars. One of the issues discussed during the joint press conference was Turkey’s signing of a memorandum of understanding with Russia for the construction of the Turkish Stream.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had to clearly underline that Turkey’s priority was the TANAP project. “We know how important [TANAP] is for Turkey, Georgia and Europe, particularly southeastern Europe. Along with the TAP [Trans Adriatic Pipeline], the TANAP is a project that could carry natural gas to different European countries. We should all exert efforts for the completion of this project, regardless of the decrease in oil and gas prices,” he stressed.
Çavuşoğlu’s statement is particularly important because he admitted that TANAP’s objective is no different from the Turkish Stream. Both will supply natural gas to European markets. However, given the decrease in energy demands in European markets, it will be hard to have two pipelines operating at the same time.
Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili openly expressed his satisfaction at hearing from Çavuşoğlu that Turkey’s priority is the TANAP, while underlining that the project was vital for regional development. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, however, recalled once again that the TANAP should be considered together with the TAP and stated that it will cost around $45 billion. “It will be the greatest project within the EU,” he said.
“This project has global significance. According to estimations, the first gas will come to Turkey late 2018 or early 2019. We, as Azerbaijan, have committed to Turkey that we will invest around $20 billion for these projects,” Mammadyarov said, in a diplomatic reminder to his Turkish colleague.
Turkey’s priority should be opening its territories to projects that would increase its regional weight, as well as its role in the future energy equation. The future energy game will require the introduction of new players like Iraq, Iran and the Caspian region, and Turkey should assure these countries that they can completely rely on it when transporting their reserves to European and global markets.