Why is TurkStream important for Turkey?
It is a reality that in Turkish Stream Project, there are some concrete achievements as strengthening Turkey’s security of energy supply in the short term and discounts on gas prices. Due to the elimination of transit fees as a result of the construction of Turkey Stream there may be a partial decrease in the medium term in the gas price it receives from Russia. Due to construction of the Turk Stream, there won’t be easy crisis in Turkish-Russian relations and Turkey can be regional energy crisis center. Because Russian gas has attained an important place in Europe and because it goes through Turkey, the latter can gain political power in Europe. Turkey will strengthen its hand in both Brussels and Moscow in energy bargains. In addition to Russian gas, the gas of Azerbaijan, Iraq, Israel, Cyprus etc., which can be shipped to the region in the future, and the establishment of a kind of energy exchange with spot gas near the Greek border, including spot purchases and short-term gas agreements, will make Ankara more powerful in the regional energy equation. As in the past, energy is one of the most important determinants of international relations and is one of the most important areas of economic interdependence between countries. The main reason for this is that energy is an important sector of world trade.
What are the risks of the Project for the EU?
If Turk Stream could go through Greece, the strong countries of the European Union would become closer to Russian in terms of politics and they would be more influenced by Russia. The Turkish Stream, which envisages expanding the range of routes rather than diversification of the source country in the EU’s energy imports, means maintaining/strengthening its current position in the European gas market in the long term for Russia. In case of EU’s buying natural gas through Turk Stream, Russia and Turkey will establish important economic ties with each other. This will lead to the confrontation between the European Union and the Eastern Europe/Baltic countries and between the European Union and the US.
According to the United States, France and Germany are intentionally and willingly trying to reduce US influence in Europe by strengthening ties with Russia. This view of the United States will cause France and Germany to be targeted both economically and politically by the US in the near future. The US’s targeting of France and Germany in terms of trade and military may result in the rapid disintegration of the EU. Moreover, the US’ exit from the EU will increase its activities in the Northern Ice Sea and will strengthen its ties with Scandinavian countries. England’s re-engagement in world politics may also lead to crises with France and Germany, because the crisis between Britain and Russia is not in a position to be solved in the near future. For the EU, there is a risk that the economy of this country will face deeper instability or be financed by the EU, as Ukraine will be deprived of transit revenues. The most disturbing issue in the USA in the North Stream-2 project is the increase in the cooperation between Russia and Germany.
How can TurkStream change the geopolitical role of Turkey?
Russia’s energy policy encompasses a wide geography from Central Asia to Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. In this respect, in order to maintain its dominance in these geographies, it aims to maintain its political superiority in the regional sense, while at the same time it competes with Western energy companies trying to operate in the region and China, which needs the region’s energy resources. Relations with Turkey have become strategic for Russia in this competition. Increased Turkey-Russia relations in the future mean strengthening Turkey-Russia-Germany cooperation. The US is trying to set strategies with these three actors in order not to act together.
How can TurkStream change the geopolitical role of Russia?
Russia carries out effective policies by developing economic relations with European countries and sometimes creating serious crises. By investing in energy distribution companies in Europe and developing energy cooperation projects with EU countries, Russia is trying to increase its dominance in the European energy market. With this project, if Russia obtains a market in Europe, natural gas can also be used as a weapon in the future. Perhaps the US feared that it would be a weapon that could be used to bring Europe to its knees rather than as an economic gain. Russia aims to balance its dependence on a single market or region by diversifying the markets and countries that it exports energy and to reduce its hypersensitivity, and to limit its vulnerability to possible crises. Turkey considers its dependence on energy imports and the uncertainties posed by this dependence as well as the geopolitical advantage provided by its the geographic location while determining its energy policies. We can say that Turkey has a geographical location which links the supplier countries and consumer countries and it accelerated the works infrastructure on energy diplomacies that could transform this important position into an opportunity.
Is Turkey becoming more dependent that Russia?
Turk Stream does not actually increase Turkey’s dependence on Russia. In contrast, it increases Russia’s dependence on Turkey. Russia also aims to increase gas supply to the countries in the regions such as Italy, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia through TurkStream. In such a case, Russia’s influence and power in European policy will increase. Let us not forget that energy can also lead to long-term interdependence between countries. The only gateway for Russia to Europe is Turkey. This means that Russia continuously offer new projects with Turkey for keeping this gateway. However, the risk is that the increased relations between Turkey and Russia will decrease NATO’s effectiveness. In a possible NATO-Turkey crisis NATO can take a large wound. The possible consequences resulted by the crisis between Turkey and NATO, Russia will gain power in regions such as Mediterranean, Black Sea and so on.
Following this rapid progress in the Turk Stream, another important development in the energy cooperation between the two countries is in the field of nuclear energy. Turkey included Akkuyu nuclear power plant project in firstly strategic investments and then in the priority investments, which enabled Russia to gain the opportunity to become a nuclear power in the future. Since this opportunity is not provided by EU and the US, Turkey becomes the best alternative for cooperating with Russia. Russia has taken an important step to increase its dominance in Turkey’s energy infrastructure by investing in the field of nuclear energy in a NATO country for the first time.
The coup attempt which took place on July 15, 2015 in Turkey and effects of the Syrian crisis, have alienated Turkey from the Western allies, have led Turkey to question its relations with the US and the EU. On the other hand, these actions have led to greater rapprochement with Russia. The two countries are able to establish superiority over the other actors in the region by cooperating in regions such as Syria, Mediterranean and Libya. If they were to act alone, the two countries would lose.
Is Russia a reliable partner for Turkey?
The relations between Russia and Turkey are moving in a more interest-based perspective. However, as economic relations increased and strategic large investments increased, the two countries started to focus on military and political policies to support each other in their regions. However, it is not possible to reach a definite conclusion about the course of these relations after Putin-Erdoğan, because there is a strong opposition and bureaucracy against each other in both countries. However, military relations between the two countries may lead to strategic unity in the future. The fact that the EU and the US do not respond to Turkey’s military needs and attitudes against Turkey especially in the fight against terrorism make these two countries to come closer.
The US is imposing sanctions on Nord Stream 2. How do these sanctions affect Turk Stream’s role?
It is also contradictory that Russia wants the Council of Europe to provide a 100% guarantee for the support of the project in the natural gas it is trying to sell to Europe via both the Northern Stream-2 and the Turkish Stream. The EU does not guarantee Russia, and it is clear that the US intends to support alternative corridors through its initiative.
In addition to the North Stream-1 natural gas pipeline, the main reason for the South Stream, Turkish Stream and North Stream-2 projects for Russia is the minimization of transit gas shipments to the European markets via Ukraine. With the implementation of the Turk Stream and Northern Stream-2 projects, Russia will have the opportunity to bypass Ukraine, where it often experiences political crises. On the other hand, with the disappearance of transit countries, it will increase the opportunities for direct access to the European market.
Do you think that the US will pose sanctions on TurkStream?
The US has imposed sanctions on both the NorthStream-2 and the TurkStream line, and in fact by doing so, it brought a new definition to the free market economy in the world. If a country across the ocean can block important projects by threatening European countries, European countries may risk losing many of their rights over the US in the future.
Why does the US oppose Gazprom’s pipeline projects in Europe?
We know that the United States is working on a project that will bring Eastern Mediterranean gas to Greece in order to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. We should say that with the support of the USA, Israel has also adopted this project. With the Turk Stream as well as North Stream 2, Russia will be able to maintain its dominance in the European market against the LNG of the US. US does not want to lose its richest market to Russia to sell LNG gas. The United States, which cannot fight against Russia in terms of price, constitutes Russian phobia in the world. The reason for their new policies is that the US wants to sell its natural gas in the market, because Russia can be equal with the USA in terms of military force by getting strength through natural gas, and fear that such relations between the EU and Russia will bring Russia closer to the EU.
The expansion of TurkStream to the EU is far from being constructed. Why don’t we see more progress on this side?
The European Commission’s internal disputes continue to prevent the Northern Stream-2 and Turk Stream projects. The objections of Poland and the Baltic countries may bring the EU into a new crisis in the future. Germany’s policies to support Russian natural gas lines without attracting attention also increase the likelihood of being the target of the USA.
Russia plans to reach an agreement with Bulgaria after the blockage on Greece and to reach Germany via Austria. However, the fact that Bulgaria is a member of the EU, its inclusion in a Project independent from the US is being debated within the country. We also see that Bulgaria is trying to balance with a US dependent policy. As a result, the United States does not give all countries the right to vote by imposing sanction on these projects.
Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) carries the Azerbaijani gas to Europe via Turkey. In this case, we must emphasize the possibility that if there is a crisis between Russia and the West in the future, and if European countries do not buy gas from the Turkish Stream, TANAP may be a solution for Russia, because the line, which operates with a capacity of 16 billion cubic meters, can be increased to 32 billion cubic meters if Russian gas is added to this line. Although the Russian press frequently reports that TANAP is a rival for Russia, we should note that this attitude is not correct.
Prof. Dr. Salih Yılmaz is the head of Turkey/Ankara Russian Research Institute and a faculty member of Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University.
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