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Russia and Turkey: An Ambiguous Energy Partnership

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Notwithstanding the ambiguity the relationship between Russian and Turkey, it is quintessentially based on a solid economic foundation. Over the last couple of years these two European powers have had a lot of political crises due to their conflicting geopolitical ambitions. Despite their conflicting ambitions, the economic rationale always prevailed. Also Erdogan and Putin have one more thing in common: both are critical of the Western policies of inactivity over serious issues.

These two leaders are ambitious and opportunistic, swinging from making pledges for political partnerships to quarrels that could direct them to a high-risk conflicts. To better understand Russian-Turkish relations one must see them through the prism of recent developments.

At the onset of this decade, the world experienced Russian annexation of Crimea, which upset President Erdogan was unhappy about, but not enough to drive him to join the sanctions imposed by Western Nations. Moreover, Turkey remained frustrated with the way European Union handed the Turkey’s accession process to the EU, and responded by joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization led by Russia and China.[1]

Difference between Russian and Turkish foreign policy agendas are evident in the Syrian Civil War, where Turkey aimed to overthrow the Syrian President Bashar Assad from office, while Russian provided military, diplomatic, and political support to keep him in power.

On November 2015, the downing of a Russian bomber by a Turkish F-16 trigged a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, in which Moscow imposed economic sanctions on Turkey. In June 2016 Erdogan offered an apology, which Putin accepted. Russia then condemned the coup attempt by the Turkish military in July 2016 against Erdogan.

The two countries have clearly been in disagreement for a couple of years, but they have managed to quickly resolve their differences for economic purposes related to Russian-Turkish energy interdependence. Since Turkey is currently importing approximately 50 percent of its gas needs from Russia, Ankara is the second most valuable market for Russian gas after Germany.

This article argues that the energy relationship between Russian and Turkey forms the basis of the solid economic foundation that keeps the balance of power. It also explores the energy partnership and whether Turkey is energy-dependent on Russian energy resources and the reasons for the controversial diplomatic relationship between these two countries.

Energy Partners or Energy Competitors?

In terms of the energy geopolitics, Turkey is a very important country for Russia’s plans because Turkey is both a consumer and a transporter country. Specifically, Turkey controls the Bosporus and the Dardanelle Straits that grant Turkey sole access to the Black Sea region. Also, Turkey is located in proximity to 72% of the world’s proven gas and 73% of oil reserves[2]. With proven energy reserves in the Middle East and the Caspian Basin, Turkey forms a natural energy bridge between energy source countries and consumer markets.

Apart from the access to the Black Sea, Turkey is the “bridge” between Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Europe. As for its role as a transport country, unlike Russian, Turkey has direct access to the Caspian and to international ports, and is an established exporter to the West. Consequent, Turkey is more likely to compete with Russia for the transit of Caspian exports than to become its energy transit route.[3]

Concerning the oil transportation, Turkey has 3.7% of the world’s daily consumption shipped through its straits.[4] On the other hand Turkey is dependent and a consumer of gas.

Currently natural gas is carried from Russia to Turkey via two routes: The eastern branch of the Trans-Balkan pipeline, which reaches Turkey via Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria (completed in 1987 during the Soviet Union)........

© E-International