A Kink In the Pipeline

Why Turkish-Russian Gas Diplomacy Won't End Well for Ankara

A worker walks down the stairs of an oil tank at Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, which is run by BOTAS, February 19, 2014. Umit Bektas / Reuters

On December 1, 2014, during a visit to Turkey, Russian President Vladimir Putin abruptly announced that Gazprom was cancelling the South Stream pipeline, which would have taken natural gas from Russia through the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and through Serbia, Hungary, and Slovenia to Austria. That same day, BOTAŞ, Turkey’s state-owned pipeline company, and Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of a new offshore gas pipeline named Turkish Stream, which would boast a capacity of 63 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year and would run from Russia, under the Black Sea, and on to the Turkish–Greek border. In the first phase of the project, starting in December 2016, Russia agreed to supply some 16 bcm to Turkey. In the second phase, the remaining 47 bcm would be delivered to the planned hub on the Turkish side of the Turkish–Greek border.

For Russia, the switch likely made sense for several reasons. For one, the South Stream pipeline was going to be very expensive and complicated from a regulatory point of view. The direct undersea pipelines to Turkey present far less of a challenge. In addition, Turkey is already Gazprom’s second-biggest market (Germany is the first), and it is the only European market with major expansion possibilities over the next decade. Finally, with tense relations between Russia and the rest of the world, Turkey might seem to Russia to be an appealing partner.  

Russia and Turkey are at odds over Crimea, the Armenian genocide, and Syria. In fact, relations have recently deteriorated over the Russian intervention in Syria, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning that Turkey could reevaluate its cooperation with the Kremlin on a number of key energy projects. Despite such sharp rhetoric, though, breaking Turkish dependence on Russian energy supplies is nearly impossible. And so, as of late, cooperation between Turkey and Russia in the energy field has been notable; Russia supplies two-thirds of Turkey’s natural gas. In 2010, Turkey brokered a deal with the state-controlled Russian company AtomStroyExport

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