All eyes are on the Turkish Stream pipeline

Published 29.11.2018 01:26
Updated 29.11.2018 08:00

Both Russia and Turkey have proceeded seriously in regards to many projects, including TurkStream, although the plans were suspended for a while after respective crises between the two

On Nov. 19, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin attended the completion ceremony for the offshore section of the 1,800-kilometer Turkish Stream pipeline (TurkStream) to supply Russian natural gas to Turkey. The pipeline, with a length of 930 kilometers running along the bottom of the Black Sea to the coast of Turkey, will stretch for 180 kilometers on land to the border of Turkey and neighboring countries.

So, everything will remain as it is now. Russia will supply gas to Europe, as Europe is still addicted to gas from Russia, but not through Ukraine anymore once the first stream of gas flows through the pipeline, which is scheduled for the end of 2019.

Currently, approximately 40 percent of natural gas exported to Europe by Russian state-owned giant Gazprom goes through Ukraine. However, Gazprom is working on another project in addition to TurkStream to replace its transit gas supplies through Ukraine to Europe. Nord Stream 2, which is also under construction, will be a new export gas pipeline running from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea. The decision was taken after the success of Nord Stream, an offshore gas pipeline from Vyborg in Russia to Greifswald in Germany, via the Baltic Sea. With the completion of Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream, Ukraine is completely bypassed. As Russia wants to punish Kiev but also continue to sell its gas to Europe and monopolize the European energy market, we can say that Putin found a way to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Bulgaria hopes that the second branch of TurkStream will go to Europe via Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and then Slovakia; thus, in these countries will not need gas transportation via Ukraine. Greece also has had an interest in TurkStream for a long time too.

In mid-November at the 3rd Thessaloniki summit of leaders of the Balkan States, it was openly declared that Athens was lobbying in Brussels for a project to extend TurkStream to Europe. In early December, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will pay an official visit to Moscow, and undoubtedly, he will insist on the participation of Athens in the transit of Russian gas via TurkStream to European territory through Greece.

Greece is also very interested in the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), one of the branches of the Southern Gas Corridor along with the Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP). TAP, very important for Greece according to Tsipras, is expected to supply gas from the Azerbaijani Shah Deniz and Shah Deniz 2 fields to Europe through Greece, Albania and Italy.

In addition to the Southern Gas Corridor, it is said that there will be another competitor in the east of the Mediterranean Sea. The possibility of an EastMed pipeline project, which will carry natural gas in the Leviathan field to Europe, will cover Israel, Northern Cyprus, Greece and Italy. But we have to note that EastMed is expected to be financed by the EU budget even though it is supported by the Greek and Italian governments, which are both known to be very critical of Brussels.

In addition, the construction cost of EastMed is quite pricey according to initial estimates, amounting to $7 billion. Nicosia is also pushing to link the pipeline through the "Aphrodite" gas field to an LNG processing plant in Egypt, which will also cost around $1 billion. It is still unclear how EastMed will be a competitor, while Turkey will not let its important presence fall, and Russia will not let others prevent its domination in the European energy market, especially after TurkStream has proven that Moscow and Ankara are committed to further improving their relations and will not let any third-country pressure prevent further cooperation.

TurkStream was first announced Dec. 1, 2014, during a visit of Putin to Istanbul. The world was surprised by Putin's words when he aborted Moscow's long-laid plans for a natural gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Europe, known as the South Stream pipeline project, which was seen as a rival to the planned Nabucco pipeline project. The famous Nabucco deal was signed in 2009 to carry Central Asian and Middle Eastern natural gas to Europe through Turkey, providing an alternative to break Europe's energy dependency on Russia. The project was first widely supported by the U.S. and the European Union and then unsurprisingly abandoned, but it wasn't serving Moscow's interests either. Making use of the EU's lack of skill, Russia first reached an agreement with Germany for a natural gas pipeline project called Nord Stream through the Baltic Sea to Europe. Construction started immediately, and the first section of the pipeline was opened in November 2011. In addition, Russia intended South Stream to start. However, that project was also canceled due to tension between the EU and Russia as a result of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, and Putin declared that Russia would run pipes to Turkey instead. Energy experts in the West never considered Turkish Stream a promising project.

Here we are: Both Russia and Turkey have proceeded seriously in regards to many projects, including TurkStream, although the plans were suspended for a while after Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet that violated Turkish airspace along the border with Syria in November 2015. Starting in 2016, Russia and Turkey took steps to mend ties, and with NATO allies continually abandoning Turkey it accelerated the normalization process with Russia while changing almost all the previous calculations in the region.

Russia and Turkey, which have long been considered rivals in natural gas delivery to Europe and have constantly been trying to bypass one another, are now cooperating in this area. That's why TurkStream is a total game changer for Eurasia's fate.

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