The Eurasian Policy & Energy Hub

An energy scenario that could prove a valuable lesson for Europe is playing out on its borders.

Before Russian-Turkish relations tanked in November of 2015 over the Turks’ downing of a Russian warplane in Turkish airspace, Russia had provided Turkey with half its natural gas.

Now Turkey is scrambling to come up with alternative suppliers, creating an opportunity for Azerbaijan and Central Asian producers such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Russia has already slapped economic sanctions on Turkey for downing its fighter, which Turkey says deliberately entered its airspace after being warned to stay out.

In the past few days, a Russian warplane entered Turkish airspace again, in what many political observers see as a Russian dare. Those who believe in this provocation scenario see Russia as spoiling for a confrontation with Turkey so it can justify a revenge attack on Turkish forces.

In 2006, a dispute over how much Ukraine should pay for Russian gas led to Moscow cutting off gas not only to Ukraine but also to Western Europe, which gets most of its Russian gas through the Ukrainian pipeline system.

Turkey fears the Russians will do the same to it.

Two pipelines deliver Russian gas to Turkey. One goes under the Black Sea to the Turkish port of Samsun. The other goes through Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria to northwestern Turkey, including Istanbul.

At the moment Ankara has no way of getting gas to northwestern Turkey if there’s a Russian cut-off.

This has prompted Turkey to turn to Azerbaijan, which has been a reliable energy supplier to Europe.

You can bet that Turkey and Azerbaijan, which are close politically and culturally, will be able to figure out a way to get more Azeri gas to Turkey over time. It’s the short term that Turkey is worried about.

A long-discussed proposal that would help Turkey wean itself away from Russian supply is a pipeline that would connect Turkmenistan, which has the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves, to Azerbaijan, Turkey and Europe.

Kazakhstan is across the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan, and an undersea pipeline also could supply Turkey with gas.

Given the Russian-Turkish friction, Ankara is probably taking a fresh look at getting the Turkmenistan project from the talking stage to the doing stage.

Given Russia’s habit of pulling the “energy card” on perceived foes as a method of political retribution, Europe must also work harder to implement alternative projects to diversify risk.

 

 

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