Turkey’s dangerous play with Russia’s Turkish Stream bid

Turkey’s dangerous play with Russia’s Turkish Stream bid

With a few days left before he loses his seat as minister and quits active politics, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said Turkey is considering becoming an equity partner in the Turkish Stream project, as Russia’s Gazprom is likely to start construction of the natural gas pipeline by the end of June. 

“Once the information regarding the coordinates of the pipeline is received, the permits granted and the talks finalized, construction could begin by the end of the month,” Yıldız told Reuters June 5. 

The Turkish Stream, a pipeline planned to carry 63 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas to Europe via Turkey by 2020 has come to the agenda after Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled its South Stream pipeline project as a result of a disagreement with the European Commission.  

The move came as a surprise, as Russia’s Gazprom and Turkey’s Botaş had signed a memorandum of understanding on the construction of the pipeline during Putin’s visit to Ankara on Dec. 1, 2014. Although there were no finalized talks between the two parties and no agreement was signed, Gazprom announced last week its plans to immediately begin construction of the pipeline that will have four different lines. 

Turkey is planning to get 16 bcm of natural gas from the Turkish bid, the same amount of gas it receives from the Western line passing through the Ukrainian territories and other Balkan countries. 

“We are talking about partnership and ownership here. We need to set up the mechanism very carefully for this. We are looking to become a partner in the costs,” Yıldız said, indicating the beginning of a tough bargaining with Russia’s Gazprom. 

Turkey’s energy relationship with Russia is getting more complicated, as its dependence on Russian gas and nuclear energy know-how is increasing, narrowing the country’s space to maneuver. It’s in open contradiction with Turkey’s efforts to diversify its energy sources with placing emphasis on Iraqi, Iranian and Turkmenistan gas reserves. Turkey proceeding with the Russian project might kill the appetite of these resource countries to join the already in place TANAP (Trans-Anatolian Pipeline Project). 

Another very important dimension is the ongoing political crisis between the West and Russia over Ukraine, with NATO troops and Russian forces coming face-to-face in the Black Sea and Eurasia more frequently and more dangerously. The United States has already openly voiced its opposition to the Turkish Stream, urging the Turkish government to stick with its plans to reach out to other regional sources to balance the European dependence on Russian sources.  

The Turkish Stream is seemingly going to be another important source of tension between Turkey and the U.S. 

If the statements coming from Yıldız are not just bluffs towards Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to resolve their disagreements for the former’s joining of TANAP, they indicate this is a beginning of a dangerous play on behalf of Turkey.