With the breakthrough of energy links in the South Caucasus from 1994 to 2006, Turkey gained new favorable opportunities for oil and gas extraction and export to the world market (especially to EU countries). Azerbaijan was the first post-Soviet country to gain access to the western shores of the Caspian Sea.
Over the past two decades, Georgia has become a link for Turkey’s transport and energy relations with Azerbaijan. More specifically, new pipelines and railway lines (including the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, the Baku–Tbilisi–Erzurum and Trans-Anatolian TANAP gas pipelines, the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railroad) were built and put into operation. In addition to the Turkish-Azerbaijani energy cooperation, Ankara has been equally successful in developing a gas partnership with Russia. In the post-Soviet period, two Russian gas pipelines “Blue Stream” and “TurkStream” were built to Turkey along the Black Seabed. Accordingly, as gas exports and transit grew, Turkey gradually diversified its strategy of gas dependence on Russia in favor of a balancing course.
With the proposal of the Russian side in October 2022 to build a gas hub in Turkey in order to depoliticize the Russian gas export, Turkey gets new unique economic and political opportunities to influence the global gas trade (including the EU countries) and strengthen the independent status of the Turkish state in the foreign arena.
So far, due to objective and situational reasons connected with the disastrous consequences of the ruinous earthquake in the South-East of the country and the start of the pre-election process in Turkey Ankara has not discussed in detail with Moscow the whole range of problems related to the gas hub construction (specifically, financing matters and coordination with potential buyers and other gas suppliers). Nevertheless, it is already obvious that Russia will not be able to fully depoliticize Russian gas exports to Europe through the Turkish transit and the gas hub.
In particular, due to the categorical position of the US and its financial system, the Fed, EU countries will seek to limit, if not completely boycott, Russian gas exports. The latter means that the financial intelligence and other controlling bodies of Western countries will constrain Turkey’s ability to issue Russian gas with a different index. The fact is that the volumes of Russian gas and competitors in the same Azerbaijan, Qatar, Iran, Algeria, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are simply not comparable.
In discussing the prospects of the gas hub project, Ankara leans towards the necessity of increasing the gas export flow from all the mentioned above countries to Turkey, the cooperation of the Caspian basin countries with the TANAP gas pipeline system to implement the possibilities of reexport of Russian gas and conceal the volumes of the blue fuel in the Eastern Thrace reservoirs.
These days, Ankara is hosting the regular summit of the heads of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS). The summit agenda includes the energy cooperation (including the gas hub project) in addition to other issues of pan-Turkic cooperation. It’s no accident that on March 16 this year, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that Ankara stands for increasing the cooperation on the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline TANAP project with the purpose of increasing gas supplies from the Caspian basin to the international market.
Naturally, Turkey’s weight in the global energy equation is increasing, as Çavuşoğlu noted. Ankara, with the support of London, Washington and Brussels, has already implemented a number of important energy projects (oil and gas pipelines) jointly with Baku and Tbilisi on exporting the natural resources of the Caspian basin to Europe. However, so far the matter concerns the shelf of the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian basin. To increase the volume of natural gas supplies to the international market in Europe, Turkey proposes to expand the list of potential exporters of blue fuel in the Caspian region.
Of course, on top of this list is the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea with the potential of 7% of the world’s gas reserves, as well as Kazakh gas with a volume of 0.87% of world reserves. Previously, Russia had a critical attitude to such an option, based on economic and geopolitical considerations. However, in the situation of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and large-scale sanctions of the collective West, Moscow decided to strengthen the vector of strategic partnership with Turkey, hoping for the reliability of the Turkish side in terms of transit of goods and gas exports. Thus, after the well-known sabotage by the Western security services on the gas pipeline Nord Stream 1 and 2, Moscow made a favorable offer to Ankara to build a gas hub and redirect the export volumes of gas from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
What is Turkey’s response? Turkey, represented by its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, supports President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to build a gas hub. But Turks are in no hurry, or rather take their time in terms of the implementation of the project. On the one hand, the Turks say they (especially after the devastating earthquake) have a shortage of finance, so the Russians will have to build the infrastructure of the gas hub on the territory of Turkey (similar to the Akkuyu NPP project) almost with their own money. Perhaps Turkey’s partners are merely probing Moscow’s reaction on the issue of their own financing of the project, since no official request of this kind has been received so far. On the other hand, Ankara offers its allies at the Pan-Turkic summit to take an active part in the expansion of additional gas exports via TANAP.
How will Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan participate in the project without Russia’s consent? Are there any new gas pipelines on the Caspian Sea bed to connect with TANAP, or will they have to be built (but who will pay)? Finally, would the throughput capacity of the existing TANAP guarantee the increase of gas exports from, say, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to meet the needs of the European energy market? As you can see, there are more questions than answers.
In this disposition also emerges the topic of the route of the new global transit from the eastern shelf and the shores of the Caspian Sea to the West through Azerbaijan to Turkey and Europe. Azerbaijan and Turkey have so far used the territory of Georgia for the connection, which predetermined the “final” establishment of Tbilisi’s pro-Western foreign policy in 1998-1999. However, the Georgian route turned out to be the most expensive from a financial and economic point of view. And the choice of the West with Turkey in the 1990s had no alternative, because at stake was the idea of bypassing Russia’s territory with the geo-economic projects to further the geopolitical introduction of NATO in the post-Soviet South and East.
After the second Karabakh war in the autumn of 2020 and the success of Azerbaijan, Turkey became interested in a transport corridor through the Armenian Meghri in Zangezur for the shortest connection with Baku and the Turkic countries of Central Asia (the historical Turkestan). Can this route be considered by Turkey (OTS countries) and the West as an alternative to the Georgian route and justification of the increase of gas supplies to Europe? Such a possibility cannot be ruled out.
Turkey will justify the participation of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan in gas export via TANAP (or TANAP-2) before Russia by the need to “hide” re-export of Russian gas in this route. It cannot be excluded that in the West (in the talks with the same US and EU with the support of Great Britain) Turkey is likely to justify the construction of TANAP-2 by the need to exploit the “weakness” of Russia, currently under Western sanctions and dependent on the Turkish transit, to ensure that a NATO country (and later the whole NATO) has access to the Turkic East (Turkestan) which, together with gas of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, has nearly 9% of global gas reserves. Besides, one cannot exclude the mentioning that Turkey’s gas exporting power due to its advantageous geography at the junction of Europe and Asia will also influence Iran’s policy. The accession of Iran to the Turkish gas transit route will lead to the fact that Ankara will gain control over almost 60% of the world’s gas reserves (including exports from Russia, Iran, Qatar, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Algeria).
Thus, the Russian gas hub project allows Turkey to simultaneously develop a new gas export project, TANAP-2, with access to the eastern shore of the Caspian basin.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.”