TurkStream And Putin’s Next Chess Move

Europe is increasingly dependent on Moscow for its gas imports. Nevertheless, Turkish President Erdogan is now operating a gas pipeline with Russia instead of the EU. It will not be the last client on the continent that Putin can cater to.

President Putin and President Erdogan have intensified their contact and relationship, particularly in the previous year, during which they met a total of ten times. Accordingly, Turkey’s relations with Russia are closer than ever before. It is one of the reasons why Putin chose Turkey as the new transit country for gas deliveries to Europe.

On Wednesday, the two opened Russia’s newest TurkStream export gas pipeline in Istanbul. It is a commercial and geopolitical coup for Moscow, as it counteracts the EU’s quest for energy supply diversification on the continent, and in fact, pushes Europeans further into the energy dependency on Russia.

TurkStream is a new edition of the South Stream pipeline project. The latter failed to meet EU competition requirements five years ago in the Crimea annexation. However, Putin did not want to succumb to his goal of creating an additional corridor for gas exports to Europe, bypassing Ukraine next to the North Stream pipeline.

Approximately 35 percent of the natural gas consumed in Europe today comes from Russia. Putin seeks to maintain this market dominance in the coming decades. Turkey is thus a logical partner. After all, Turkey is Moscow’s second most essential export destination behind Germany.

Above all, however, it forms the south-eastern flank of the EU. Half of the total capacity of the pipeline, 15.75 million cubic meters per year, is destined for transit to Europe. In the medium term, the pipeline is to bring Russian gas to Austria via Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary. Contrary to the EU’s goal of diversifying gas imports and increasing energy security, the countries of Southeast Europe are thus even further expanding their dependence on Russia with TurkStream.

At the same time, TurkStream is a competition project for the EU-partially financed Southern Gas Corridor, which is to bring ten billion cubic meters of gas annually to the EU via the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) from Azerbaijani offshore fields in the Caspian Sea. Erdogan’s plan that Turkey could become an energy hub where buyers and sellers meet and where prices are set has now become a reality.

However, the Moscow – Ankara energy axis also harbors risks for Europe. In the course of the EU accession negotiations, Turkey was supposed to become a reliable partner for Europe in energy security. The alliance with the Kremlin now has the potential to put pressure on the EU.

Erdogan even appears to be ready to increase its own energy dependency on Russia. Turkey has virtually no gas reserves of its own and is dependent on imports. Therefore, just like Europe, the country had tried in the past to diversify its energy supply and to make itself less dependent on Russia.

However, the conflict between the EU and Turkey on the energy issue had worsened. After valuable gas deposits were discovered off the coast of Cyprus, Turkey sent drillships. However, Cyprus also claims the sea area and thus the gas. The island is divided into a northern and southern part, the latter belonging to the EU. Northern Cyprus is a de facto regime that is only recognized by Turkey.

Worse yet for Ankara, at the beginning of the year, Cyprus, Greece, and Israel signed a basic agreement for the planned construction of the EastMed Mediterranean pipeline. It is said to transport gas from Israel to Greece via Cyprus. Turkey sharply criticized the construction project, as it feels cheated and sees the agreement as an attempt to isolate Turkey and Northern Cyprus.

In Turkey’s search for alternative partners outside the EU, Erdogan ran into Putin’s open arms and is inclined to accept that, with TurkStream, Russia will play a disproportionate role in its supply mix, in what is the Kremlin’s latest move in imposing its agenda on Europe.