Energy policy caught between Russian, Western interests

Turkish Pipeline Corporation General Director Fazıl Şenel (front L) and Gazprom President Aleksei Miller (front R) signed an agreement between Turkey and Russia in late December to build the South Stream gas pipeline. (PHOTO: AA, Sinan Gül)

April 22, 2012, Sunday/ 12:37:00

Turkey’s agreement with Russia to allow construction of the South Stream gas pipeline and its subsequent agreement on the Trans-Anatolia Pipeline (TANAP) signed with Azerbaijan as a critical part of the Nabucco-West pipeline project have left observers preoccupied with whether Turkey will be able to maintain the balance between Russia and the West, a question that still lingers.

Although Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, following the signing of the Turkish-Russian agreement for South Stream, stated that the agreement will not affect the realization of the Nabucco project supported by the EU, energy analysts disagree.

The Nabucco gas pipeline project envisages transporting natural gas from Caspian Basin and Middle East sources to European countries and is being revamped with the TANAP project, a gas pipeline that is going to traverse Turkey from its eastern to its western border with the initial capacity of 16 billion cubic meters a year. TANAP is an initial phase of the Nabucco project in Turkish territory ahead of Nabucco-West, a new and much smaller pipeline project proposed by the Nabucco consortium to the Shaz Deniz II consortium.

Turkey and Russia signed an agreement in December of last year deemed by Russian Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin as a New Year’s gift for both sides to ensure Russian access to Turkish waters of the Black Sea to construct the South Stream gas pipeline running from Russia and bypassing a hostile Ukraine to Southern and Central Europe. The total capacity of South Stream, which aims to diversify Russia’s energy routes to European markets, will be 63 billion cubic meters per year.

In an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Hasan Saygın, an energy analyst, says that the day the Russian South Stream is realized, Turkey will lose its geopolitical importance. “The realization of the South Stream pipeline project is difficult. In terms of the realization of South Stream, which is going to carry 63 billion cubic meters of gas resources a year to European markets, Nabucco will become obsolete,” says Saygın, adding that Nabucco is already aptly named a “pipe-dream” as there are no gas resources except the insufficient Azerbaijani gas to feed the gas pipeline. Turkey will fall off the radar as an energy hub in the region as well when South Stream materializes, says Saygın, who argues, “Europe will never need an alternative pipeline to South Stream: with 63 billion cubic meter gas resources, that is going to be twice as much as Nabucco’s capacity.”

The Nabucco pipeline is an EU-supported gas pipeline that will connect the Caspian Basin and Middle East gas sources to Western energy markets via Turkey’s territories with the aim of easing European dependence on Russian energy. Although the project currently rests on gas sources from Azerbaijan, the only supplier that is still committed to providing it with gas, in its initial phase the pipeline was going to be fed by several potential suppliers including Egypt, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan with 31 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. Moreover, despite the fact that the final investment decision of the Nabucco project was expected to be made in 2012, there have recently been no considerable steps forward.

Saygın says that Turkey’s support for South Stream and then TANAP discloses the contradictions of the nation’s energy policy, and argues, “Turkey is experiencing constriction [of its resources] and discrepancies [between its actions and its own interests] due to its faulty energy policy.”

However, Alex Jackson, an expert on the politics, security and economics of the Caspian region, says in a conversation with Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey is not a loser but a winner due to its successful energy policies. “In signing the South Stream deal and then agreeing to TANAP shortly afterwards, Ankara has gained a significant gas discount from Gazprom [Russia’s largest gas company, which dominates the Eastern European gas market] without losing anything,” says Jackson. However, he adds his pessimism about South Stream’s likelihood of being built. “South Stream will not be built and Turkey will still be a key transit route for Caspian gas supplies.”

As for TANAP, Jackson says, “If TANAP is built, the rationale for South Stream – which is already under fire as too expensive and politically problematic – will decrease even further.”

Commenting on the viability of Turkey’s energy security politics, Saygın criticized the country’s energy policy for its lack of diversification of resources -- which is considered the basic principle of international energy politics -- and its heavy dependence on Russian energy. “Being so dependent on a country [Russia] that makes you fragile proves your [Turkey’s] lack of a smart energy policy,” says Saygın.

Russia is a regional power that is trying to maintain dominance over the former Soviet territories including the South Caucasus and Central Asia. So Russia has a considerable influence on Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- the European Commission hopes to involve Turkmen gas via the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project -- main potential supplier countries of the Nabucco project gas pipeline, and could therefore block the energy flow into the EU-supported Nabucco project at its source. Saygın says that it is because of the Turkish commitment to the Nabucco project that Russia came up with the South Stream project, which increases Turkey’s dependence on Russia despite being regarded by Turkey as advancing its chance of becoming a regional hub for alternative energy routes.

Remarking on the efficiency of Turkey’s energy politics, Jackson is certain that for whatever reason, if Turkey does cut its supplies of gas from Iran, it will find it difficult to find alternative suppliers. “Russia and Azerbaijan cannot make up the difference. Iraqi gas is an option but is relatively limited and is politically very problematic. Using liquefied natural gas [LNG] from other sources such as Libya is possible but will be hampered by Turkey’s limited LNG infrastructure. For now, Turkey should continue to purchase Iranian gas,” the expert says.

As for the TANAP project agreed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, Jackson says the Turkish-Azerbaijani agreement consists only of a memorandum of understanding, which according to Saygın is “an idea rather than an action.” Saygın says the memorandum of understanding signed between Turkey and Azerbaijan is just a protocol and that “no discrete steps have been taken by Turkey to make it real.” Asked why then Turkey signed the TANAP agreement, Saygın said Turkey’s willingness to sign was also based on wariness of being overly dependent on Russia, adding, “Turkey went for the Trans-Anatolia agreement to complement the South Stream agreement signed with Russia.”

Saygın sees a path ahead for Turkey to get out of the situation created by its contradictory energy policies: “Turkey needs to consider the role of the main regional actors such as Iran and Russia rather than the remote powers such as China, and build up a viable energy policy, which will certainly increase Turkey’s geopolitical importance and turn it into a critical energy hub in the region.”

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