Turkey will be able to avail of cheaper natural gas through the new TurkStream pipeline that will begin operating in the coming month, Professor Salih Yilmaz, president of Ankara based think-tank institute of Russian studies (RUSEN) told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
The dual TurkStream natural gas pipeline is considered a strategic investment for Turkey and Russia, Yilmaz stated.
The pipeline is set to have a total capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters (bcm), out of which the first line will carry a capacity of 15.75 bcm of Russian gas to Turkish consumers. The second line will carry another 15.75 bcm of gas to Europe via Turkey.
The Russian economy, which is heavily dependent on energy income, needs to continue to sell its gas to Europe, Yilmaz said.
During the period of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia has sent its oil and gas to Europe via Ukraine. However, the distribution of gas supplies became risky in 2014 when the crisis between Russia and Ukraine erupted due to the annexation of Crimea. This, in turn, increased the importance of the TurkStream project for Russia as an alternative route to transmit gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, the expert noted.
The TurkStream project has also gained strategic prominence as an alternative supply source to that of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that carries Russian gas to Germany and which is subject to pressure from the U.S.
U.S. pressure has also affected Bulgaria in its decision to proceed with the Bulgarian section of the TurkStream pipeline coupled with pressure from some European countries.
Bulgaria has been deliberately procrastinating over the Bulgarian section, which prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to issue warnings over the ongoing delays and to state that Russia would seek alternative routes should these delays continue.
The TurkStream project will directly connect Russian gas reserves to Europe. According to Yilmaz, the project will ensure the energy supply security in the region, boost the geostrategic importance of Turkey as well as allow Ankara and Moscow to wield greater political and energy influence in the Balkans and Central Europe.
Cheaper gas possible for Turkey
Moscow was left with no option but to distribute its gas to Europe through Turkey after the cancellation of the South Stream project. As a result, when the TurkStream project is up and running, Russia is likely to supply cheaper gas to Turkey in a more stable environment, Yilmaz said.
In December 2014, CEO of Gazprom Alexey Miller announced that Putin had canceled the construction of the South Stream pipeline that was planned to carry Russian gas to Europe via Bulgaria. Putin laid the blame on the European Union for axing the project. After its termination, Putin said that Gazprom would build a natural gas pipeline to Turkey, bypassing Ukraine and naming the project the Turkish Stream, later to be known as TurkStream.
Regarding the conflict with Ukraine, Russia has shown signs of reconciliation in Donbas to extend the gas transit deal with Ukraine that will expire at the end of this year. Russia announced that they would consider the Steinmeier formula, a peace plan of sorts proposed by then Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in 2016 to find reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine and which also involved a condition to extend the gas transit deal with Ukraine.
According to Yilmaz, the TurkStream pipeline will not only strengthen Russia’s military and economic position in the Black Sea but will also boost Turkey’s relations with its neighboring countries, a position that poses a threat to the U.S. by potentially diminishing its clout in the region, he said.
Cooperation could lead to resolving East Mediterranean conflict
Professor Oktay Tanrisever, an academic member of the international relations department of the Middle East Technical University, told Anadolu Agency that the TurkStream project which will allow Turkey to purchase natural gas directly from Russia will boost Turkey’s energy supply security.
Through the project, it is expected that gas will be distributed to Europe via either Bulgaria or Greece, a position he said would allow greater regional cooperation and could help resolve regional issues including that of sharing natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Nonetheless, Tanrisever said that Ukraine would not benefit because its importance as a gas transit country would diminish and cause the loss of a substantial amount of income from transit fees.
He anticipates that in the near future, Ukraine will cooperate with EU countries in an attempt to decrease its dependence on Russia.
TurkStream: game-changer in Turkish-Russian relations
Assistant Professor Vugar Imanbeyli in the Political Science and International Relations Department of Istanbul Sehir University told Anadolu Agency that the project would change the energy relationship dynamics between Turkey and Russia.
Gas via the first TurkStream line will substitute supplies from the West Line to not only improve Turkey’s energy supply security but also save transit fees to the tune of $500 million, he said.
Furthermore, he said Turkey could gain the upper hand in negotiating gas prices with Russia based on gas supply increases from Azerbaijan via the TANAP project. He surmised that Turkey might even face surplus supplies in the future with a capacity of 15.75 bcm from the Blue line and 15.75 bcm via TurkStream’s first section.
Both the TurkStream and NordStream 2 pipelines will put Ukraine into difficulty since it faces the possibility of losing $3 billion in transit fees at a time when Ukraine’s economy is suffering.
At the same time, the potential absence of interdependency between Ukraine and Russia through the gas pipelines could intensify Russia’s aggressive policies towards Ukraine, the expert concluded.