Putin's Turkish Stream: Whether Transitory or Durable plan

The most important aspect of the strategic relationship between Turkey – Russia is alignment in the defense sector as also the unanimity on international issues as their common goal, and this is totally absent - for more than one reason – in the their relationship.

Putin's Turkish Stream: Whether Transitory or Durable plan

Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s announcement, on his December 2014 visit to Turkey, of abandoning the South-Stream natural gas pipeline project proposed to transport 63 billion cubic meter of gas from Russia to Europe came as a sudden surprise in many European capitals, especially in Bulgaria, a small and relatively poor EU member country having lost billions in transit revenue of the proposed South stream project.

The very concept of South-stream natural gas pipeline project was to bypass the troubled Ukraine route of gas supply to Europe in general, and to Germany and Austria in particular.
Putin made the statement during the press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as thus: “If Europe doesn’t want to realize this, and then it means it won’t be realized. We will redirect the flow of our energy resources to other regions of the world.”

The most astonishing part of the announcement was to shift the south stream project to bilateral Russian-Turkish project, later dubbed by many analysts as “Turk-Stream”. The abandoned South-Stream project also had Turkish participation since the pipelines had to go through the Turkish territorial waters in the black sea.

The “Turk Stream” project if materialized as expected will further cement Turkish aspirations to become a regional energy supply hub. Recent overtures with the central government in Baghdad paid well, and now Turkey is getting energy supplies from both, Baghdad and the newly constructed pipeline controlled by Kurdish regional government in Erbil.

Turkey is already getting natural gas from Baku–Tbilisi–Erzurum Pipeline, also known as South Caucasus pipeline from the Shah Deniz gas field in the Azerbaijan sector of the Caspian Sea to Turkey. It runs parallel to the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (crude oil) pipeline. The initial capacity of the pipeline is 8.8 billion cubic metres of gas per year with the expected capacity increase to 25 billion cubic metres.
The most significant gas pipeline project for Turkey is Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) along with the proposed extension to Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) with the initial planned capacity of 16 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year and would be increased later up to 23 billion cubic metres by 2023, , and at the final stage 60 billion cubic metres  to be able to transport additional gas supplies from Azerbaijan and the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline from Turkmenistan.  

Currently, natural gas accounts for an increasing share of the energy mix in Turkey, and it has overtaken oil to become the most important fuel in terms of volume consumed.
It is worth mentioning here that Turkey is the second most important market for Russian natural gas after Germany. Russia is also building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, on the Mediterranean coast. The plant would have four units with a total capacity of 4.2 gigawatts and begin operating around 2020.

Undoubtedly, the commercial and economic relationship between Russia and Turkey is very important, and the economic relation between the two is vital for both the countries.  Both the countries are big regional economies as also the members of G20. With their bilateral trade presently exceeding 30 billion USD, both Erdogan and Putin vowed to increase it further to 100 Billion USD by 2023, on the centenary of Turkish Republic.

However, it would remain a matter of curiosity whether Russia would be fond of the ascendance of a competing Muslim power in the Central Asia, Caucasus and Black sea regions. Most probably, this relationship will turn out to be a temporary trend due to the tough and crippling US-EU embargo on Russia and Turkey’s independent foreign policy in the region.
The profound divergence on the issues like Syria and Crimea are still lingering there, and the Russians appear to be very little willing to accommodate the Turkish standpoint on the final solution to Syrian crisis. This is quite obvious from the Turkish Foreign Minister’ Mevlut Cavusoglus recent statement that Russia is not keeping words in Crimea, "We should see these promises being implemented. But I say with sorrow that these promises have not been kept. Russia is our friend, but we have to tell them if they go wrong," Cavusoglu told Anadolu Agency.

Crimea has the historical undertone between the erstwhile Ottoman Empire and the Russian empire, the predecessors of the republics in Turkey and Russian federation. The Crimean Tatars are Turkic people, and have natural and historical bond with the mainland, Turkey.

Economic relations between the two large producing and consuming economies do not necessarily culminate in to a strategic relationship. The current course of action suggests that their relationship is more trade and economy oriented rather than the much touted strategic one. The Sino-Japan and Indo-China economic relations are much huger in bilateral trade than the Russian –Turkish economic relations. But, all know the deep rooted animosity that Japan and India have with China and vice versa.
So with regard to the entire scope of the Russian-Turkish gas deal and the net achievement of the proposed Turkish stream, there is a need for caution while speculating much on the future course of it, or what it all may ultimately mean.

The bilateral trade and commercial and economic relations between two countries do not necessarily culminate into the strategic relations. The fact may be applicable to Russian-Turkish relations also. The other aspects of true strategic relationship between the two countries are still not clearly visible.
Undoubtedly, Russia, following the US-EU rebukes, is thinking for  long term relationship, and seems committed to structuring a multi-polar world along with rising China. They have already built a security apparatus, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) called by many as NATO of the East where Turkey - the only NATO member- is a dialogue partner and may soon be elevated to an observer status. The major question for Turkey now is where it fits well into the larger Russia-driven geostrategic schemes.    

The most important aspect of the strategic relationship between the two countries is alignment in the defense sector as also the unanimity on international issues as their common goal, and this is totally absent - for more than one reason – in the present Turkey – Russia relationship.

Thus, it remains to be seen whether the present bonhomie between the two countries will continue to be intact and flourish or will face a diminishing return situation as if it were not more than a time-being arrangement, or more aptly expressed, a marriage of convenience.

Last Mod: 20 Ocak 2015, 13:29
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