Russia’s Black Sea gas pipeline fuels its growing influence

Russia’s Black Sea gas pipeline fuels its growing influence

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks as he attends the inauguration ceremony of a new gas pipeline TurkStream on January 8, 2020, in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held another of their frequent meetings in Istanbul on Jan. 8. The occasion was the inauguration of the TurkStream gas pipeline diagonally crossing the Black Sea to carry Russian gas to Turkey.

The pipeline was initially designed to go from Russia directly to Bulgaria, but Putin grew angry at Sofia’s procrastination in implementing the project and decided to shift the landing point of the pipeline from Bulgaria to Turkey, naming it TurkStream instead of South Stream. He probably wanted to avoid the Ukrainian Exclusive Economic Zone in the Black Sea, as well.

During their meeting, the two leaders also discussed other important issues such as Turkey’s sending troops to Libya, the more than one hundred thousand new Syrian refugees moving from Idlib toward the Turkish border, the repercussions of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani’s killing and the Iranian response to it. However, the present article will focus on the TurkStream.

The two leaders symbolically turned on a tap that represented the pumping of gas through the pipeline. Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also attended the inauguration ceremony.

This project may put an end to a multilateral dispute. In the past, Turkey from time to time received less than its scheduled quantity of gas, especially in the winter period when the gas consumption was higher. Ukraine claimed that it was Russia that reduced the supply, while Russia has claimed that Ukraine was stealing part of the gas destined for Turkey. Turkey had to cover the shortfall by renting Floating Storage and Regasification Units (FSRU). Now, with a direct line between Turkey and Russia, we will know better who was responsible for the decrease in supply.

The TurkStream also aimed to punish Ukraine, or at least reduce the importance of its role as a transit country for Russian gas to the eastern and central European countries.

Russia laid another pipeline, Nord Stream 1, through the Baltic Sea to Germany, with Nord Stream 2 expected to become operational in the summer of 2020.

The US is vehemently opposing the construction of these pipelines, claiming that it will make European countries more dependent on Russia. It put pressure on Bulgaria to put off the implementation of the project.

Turkey will continue to pay a higher price for Russian gas than distant countries like Germany, France and Italy, because it was in a weak bargaining position when the gas deal with Russia was negotiated.

Yasar Yakis

Immediately before the ceremony, the US hastily announced that it will impose sanctions on companies that are involved in the construction of the pipelines. The US may be acting this way for two reasons: One is to deprive Russia of the income that would accrue from the sale of gas. A more important reason may be to sell its own liquefied shale gas.

The irony is that the US announced these sanctions after the project was completed. Since these sanctions cannot be implemented retroactively, they may be destined to satisfy the US domestic audience.

German authorities are furious and consider the US sanctions a direct interference in their domestic affairs.

Such measures may to a certain extent dissuade the national companies of the receiving countries from cooperating with the Russian gas companies, but in the long run it may also erode the efficacy of such sanctions if they are overplayed.

The new pipeline relieves Turkey of the pressure of unforeseeable breakdowns, but its importance should not be exaggerated. Turkey was already receiving 14 billion cubic meters of gas per annum (BCUM/a) from the Trans-Balkan line that went through Ukraine. Now Russia is phasing out this pipeline to punish Ukraine, but Turkey will receive the same quantity of gas — or even 1.75 BCUM/a more — from the new pipeline.

Turkey will continue to pay a higher price for Russian gas than distant countries like Germany, France and Italy, because it was in a weak bargaining position when the gas deal with Russia was negotiated.

Another important consequence of this new pipeline is that Turkey will become more dependent on Russia for its energy. Coupled with the new Turkish nuclear power station that is being constructed by Russia in Akkuyu, Turkey’s reliance on Russia for energy will continue to grow in the future. Such a high reliance has advantages because closer economic ties contributes to stability in the relations between countries. But it also contains risks.

• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and a founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar

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