* Turkey’s Political Expectations From The Pipelines
Whether Turkey has become an energy hub is a subject of continuous debate, even though the pipelines passing through or reaching Turkey indicate it has already become a regional center for energy transportation: Currently, there are two main naturalgas pipelines between Russia and Turkey. While the first reaches Turkey via the Balkans, the other ends in Samsun, a Turkish city on the Black Sea coast. Another route is the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) pipeline, which transfers Azerbaijani gas from the Shah Deniz-I field to Turkey via Georgia. This pipeline carries natural gas not only for the Turkish domestic market, but also for Greece. The other pipeline that lies between Turkey and Azerbaijan is known as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Crude Oil Pipeline (BTC) and Azerbaijani oil reaches the Eastern Mediterranean coast via this 1760-km route.
The fifth pipeline transports gas from Iran to Turkey, and the sixth, Turkey’s oldest pipeline, delivers crude oil from Iraq to Turkey’s southern coast. In addition, Turkey has been building a domestic web of pipelines throughout the country for more than 20 years. As several cities are connected to the natural gas network each year, Turkey is becoming one of the leading energy importers in the region. Besides, this only reflects a small piece of the big picture – there are other projects waiting to be realized:
First of all, in addition to Azerbaijani gas, Turkey aims to create a link between the other gas suppliers in the Caspian region and European markets via its own territory. If the NABUCCO Project, which aims to decrease Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, can be realized, Turkey will host the second most important regional pipeline after the BTC. While Turkey wishes to integrate Iranian and Iraqi gas as well into the NABUCCO Project, it seems inevitable that new pipeline routes from Iran and Iraq will be completed within the next 10 years. At present, a Turkish company produces gas in Northern Iraq and a 100-km-long pipeline was already constructed to transfer Iraqi gas to Turkey. Efforts are underway to construct a 200-km-long pipeline, which will lie parallel to the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik pipeline, and the amount of gas flowing to Turkey will be equal to the amount that is coming from Azerbaijan’s Caspian reserves. However, the projects that will be carrying Iraqi oil and gas to Western markets have not been completed yet. Apart from these projects Egyptian gas is expected to be integrated into these regional projects in the framework of energy security. Egyptian gas will reach Western markets following a route through Syria and Turkey.
The Middle East projects are standing on the table, but Turkey and Russia are flirting with the idea of transferring Russian natural gas to the Middle East via another route that will pass through the Black Sea, just like the Blue Stream. This will be known as the Blue Stream-II project, and in its second phase, Russian gas will be carried to India through an Israeli port.
As can be seen, not only the East-West corridor but also the South-North and North-South pipelines pass through Turkish territory, and under these circumstances Turkey is a strong candidate to become one of the world’s most important gas and petroleum terminals in the short term. This situation is generally supported by Turkey’s neighbors and the West. Furthermore, Turkey presses an ambitious agenda to accomplish this goal. The first reason for this willingness is that Turkey wants to meet its growing energy needs and ensure its energy security, since construction of pipelines contributes to energy security and also countries are less likely to be negatively affected due to fluctuations in the market. Moreover, Turkey pursues a proactive policy in the energy sphere to diversify its energy resources and success in its objectives will allow Turkey to decrease its dependency on Russia.
Surely there are other motives behind Turkey’s proactive energy diplomacy. Pipeline revenues, such as transit fees, will probably amount to hundreds of millions of dollars each year. However, this is not one of Turkey’s main concerns when compared to its political and strategic aims. It perceives pipelines as vital projects for the promotion of regional integration and sustainable stability. Turks believe that pipelines will form the basis for permanent solutions to long-lasting conflicts in the region, and will encourage countries to engage in cooperation while contributing to the economic and political independence of the countries in the region. Turkey is especially committed to advancing energy cooperation with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to help them to diminish the Russian influence and to become more independent countries.
In the Soviet era, infrastructure that carries Caspian hydrocarbon resources was designed to promote interdependency and these pipelines reached world markets via Russian territory. Thus, Moscow has a higher hand in the region, in terms of energy politics. Revenues earned from energy resources represent the main income of these countries, and being dependent on Russian infrastructure means being politically dependent on Moscow. Consequently, while some ex-Soviet countries have redefined their economic and political relations with Russia on a more independent basis, the Turkish Republics have not shown the same determination and perseverance. Azerbaijan was the first among these states to break the habit.Azerbaijanis exported more than 90% of their energy resources thanks to the BTE and BTC pipelines. Consequently, Azerbaijan took an important step towards becoming an independent country. Furthermore, Georgia, another important actor in the region, strengthened its position against Russia thanks to these pipeline projects. If Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan can be suppliers of gas and oil via existing or planned projects passing through Turkey, Russia’s abnormal influence in the Caspian region will inevitably decline. In the same context, Turkey and the West will increase their economic and political power in the region by means of pipelines. Both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan still export their gas through Russian pipelines. These two countries are still being forced to deepen their relations and sign new contracts and send their gas in a northern direction. Up until now, the West has drawn a lower profile, and as a result Russia buys Turkmen gas at a good bargain and sells it at higher prices in Europe, which Gazprom claims are market prices.
Turkey’s other political expectation from the pipelines is that it does not want to stand alone against aggressive countries in the region, such as Russia. The BTC project has partially met this expectation, as it fostered the creation of an environment in which the US and the EU have come closer to the Turkish position.If the NABUCCO Project is accomplished, the stability and security of the region will be of vital importance for the Westand hegemonic policies would be prevented in the region.
The third political expectation from these pipelines is for Turkey and the West to engage Iran, Iraq and Syria. According to Turkey, these countries can not be integrated in the system by using hard power; on the contrary, a permanent and strong interest-oriented partnership has to be promoted, and pipelines are seen as one of the best instruments to achieve this goal. Especially, if Iran and/or Iraq also supply gas to NABUCCO, this will contribute to regional economic development and will help the EU’s stabilizing and constructive approach to prevail in the region. Taking into consideration the positive impacts of pipelines on the transit countries’ economies and security, increasing trade relations among Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Eastern Europe countries will lead to interdependence and will cause hardliners to lose their base in these states. At least this is what Turkey expects.
Another expectation from pipeline diplomacy is an improvement in Turkish-Russian relations. Turkey, which is trying to tame Russia via pipeline politics,is ironically making an effort to improve its relations with Russia through pipelines. Since Turkey knows that Russian hegemony in energy politics will create a more aggressive Russia in the region, the only way to normalize Turkish-Russian relations is to increase interdependence and decrease Russia’s leverage on energy routes and supplies. In other words, the rationale behind Turkey’s support of alternative gas routes is not to harm Russian interests, but to diminish the negative consequences of Russian dominance in the region and to integrate Russia into the world system on a more equal basis. Turkey’s location at the intersection of pipeline routes helps Turkey to be an alternative to Russia in the East-West corridor and also makes Turkey the partner Russia needs in the North-South corridor. For example, the Blue Stream II project envisages the transfer of Russian gas not only to Turkish markets, but also to Israel and even beyond. Similarly, the Russia-Turkey-Israel-India oil pipeline project, which has not been materialized, constitutes another important project that is expected to strengthen Turkey-Russia cooperation. Moreover, Russia may supply gas to NABUCCO in the future. Turkey is currently one of the most important customers of Russian gas and oil, and its energy needs are growing with each passing day. Turkey-Russia trade volume has already exceeded 30 billion dollars. Surely, economics alone will not suffice to eliminate the political differences between Turkey and Russia; however, relations will be more balanced with the contributions of pipelines and increasing trade relations.
Turkey’s political expectations from pipelines are not limited to this context. It is anticipated that diversification of routes passing through Turkey’s eastern territories will substantially reduce terrorist activities in the region. In particular, constructing parallel pipelines to Kirkuk-Yumurtalik will make it harder for the PKK terrorist organization to find a safe haven in Iraq, and this will facilitate international cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
In sum, the oil pipelines will help to increase Turkey’s strategic importance in both the East and the West. In the same vein, Turkey, as a transit county on the energy transmission routes from the Middle East and the Caspian region to the West, expects acceleration of its negotiations with the European Union. In short, the pipelines do not merely mean ‘pipes’ for Turkey. The Turks, in the existing conjuncture, are concentrating more on the political and strategic means of pipelines rather than the economic dimensions of these projects.
Sedat Laciner is Director of USAK, Ankara based Turkish think tank and lecturer of Turkish Foreign Policy. firstname.lastname@example.org