The TurkStream pipeline was inaugurated yesterday in Istanbul with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in attendance. The pipeline will bring Russian natural gas both to Turkey and onward to southern Europe. TurkStream follows the launch of another natural gas pipeline, the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), whose final leg to Europe was completed only two months ago. With the launch of TurkStream, Turkey is host now to three major natural gas pipelines, cementing its place as the major energy corridor between Europe and Asia.
The take-away from the launch of TurkStream from an economic perspective isn't the importance of the engineering feat achieved or of the immediate savings on energy prices to Turkey or even the addition employment it will bring to the region. The greatest economic contribution of TurkStream and similar projects is the generation of further economic ties between Turkey and Russia. As economic interdependencies increase between countries, their conflicts decrease. Both countries have more to lose should politicians on either side of the Black Sea disagree on a particular issue and move to freeze relations. This potential loss leads to lobbying on the respective governments by business leaders who help to avoid conflict.
This isn't just good news for Turkey and Russia but also good news for the NATO alliance Turkey represents along with the nations in Russia's sphere of influence. Ultimately, peace and conflict avoidance only come about when the alternative is rejected by the elites of nations on opposing sides of a conflict. If both countries cannot afford disruptions to their economies, disruptions do not happen.
This is the template that will need to be adopted for the greater Middle East conflict. What makes the current rhetoric and saber-rattling over the assassination of Qassem Soleimani so dangerous is that both sides have relatively little to lose. Iran is already fragile economically, and any further attacks on it will be to the benefit of the regime there and any counterattack by Iran on U.S. interests will be to the benefit of President Donald Trump in his reelection bids. Both sides have little to lose and much to gain. In the middle of the conflict are civilians in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Israel, all with much to lose. Iran's "response" to Soleimani's death, attacks on U.S. bases including in Irbil, Iraq, hit only 120 miles south of Turkey's border.
Soleimani is accused of being the mastermind behind many of the civilian deaths in Syria, and his assassination was celebrated by millions of people around the world, including nearly 4 million Syrians in Turkey. While his assassination may have felt like "justice" to the families of the victims of his Syrian strategy, I'm afraid it will only result in further bloodshed in which more innocent civilians will die.
Obviously civilian deaths need to be avoided at all costs whether or not economic ties exist between countries, but if economic interdependence will aid in this effort it should be welcomed and championed wherever possible.
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