No give-and-take deals with Russia

No give-and-take deals with Russia

A quick scan of foreign policy analysts’ articles in newspapers that don’t generally support the government will show that the cliché of “from zero problems to many problems with neighbors” has become the new phrase of the day.

I’ll try to avoid that cliché, yet recent developments are raising question marks as to whether Russia could be the next one to join the list of countries about whom the government’s euphoria about the level of bilateral ties is being replaced by a more troubled picture.

If the news reported by daily Habertürk is correct, Russian agents have been freely going around in Turkey, conducting the extra-judicial killings of some Chechens. If true, this certainly should be a cause of tension between the two capitals unless there has been similar illegal action taken by the Turkish side, which could explain Ankara’s silence, but I highly doubt that.

The news reports of Russian agents’ operations in Turkey were followed by Turkey’s decision to end a contract to buy 6 billion cubic meters of gas a year. Turkey terminated the contract as it could not secure a sufficient price reduction. The contract was signed in 1986 and was due to expire later this year, meaning negotiations for a new pricing mechanism had been going on for some time.

Turkey pressed Russia for discounts, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement in March during talks in Moscow between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Dmitry Medvedev, said Moscow Times.

This reminded me of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ankara on Aug. 6, 2009, when Turkey granted Gazprom permission to carry out feasibility and seismic studies for the South Stream in the Turkish part of the Black Sea. The moved had surprised many, especially the supporters of Nabucco, the project to carry Caspian gas to Europe via Turkey

In exchange, Ankara thought that it had Moscow’s consent to commit its oil to the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline, a project given priority by Ankara. Yet to this day, Moscow’s commitment has not been secured. An opportunity to guarantee Russian commitment to Samsun-Ceyhan was missed yet again when Turkey inked a deal in May 2010 with Russia to build the first Turkish nuclear power plant. When Prime Minister Erdoğan went to Moscow last March, it was right after the disaster at the Fukishima nuclear power plant, giving him enough leverage to secure a better “give and take” deal. All he did was to ask for more security measures, while he failed to secure a discount on gas prices.

So looking back, we can see that while Turkey gave a green light to South Stream, which is competing against Nabucco, and awarded Russia the task of building a nuclear plant in Turkey without any bidding process, it failed to secure a favorable approach to the Samsun- Ceyhan project and a discount on gas prices.

Some experts are saying that Ankara is adjusting its gas balance and the contract was surplus to requirements. They are arguing that additional volumes may come from using the extra capacity of Blue Stream (the line that goes beneath the Black Sea) or it could be purchased from Iran. But Iran is not a secure supplier as gas flow has been disrupted many times in the past. Meanwhile, additional volumes will not be bought at discounted prices. On the contrary, as Turkey has started to dig its feet in on the South Stream project, the Russians will be less willing to play with the prices for additional volumes