Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Russo-Turkish Divergence (Part Ii): The Energy Dimension

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Russo-Turkish Divergence (Part Ii): The Energy Dimension

Article excerpt

Energy issues figure prominently in the Russo-Turkish relationship. Their impact is not nearly as clear-cut as are the Iranian and Syrian issues. Turkey and Russia have a complex, evolving relationship characterized by mutual dependencies in the oil and gas spheres. As Richard Weitz stated, "Energy relations between Russia and Turkey have long been characterized by overt friendship and subtle competition."1

In the first part of this two-part series of research on Russo-Turkish relations, the authors contended that during 2009-2010, behind the surface of the rhetoric of convergence, there frequently lay strategic divergence between Russia and Turkey. In all those years, Turkish officials and experts described their relations with Russia as being the best ever and said that bilateral harmony featured prominently in the past decade's international relations. However, Russia and Turkey had already begun to diverge during 2009-2010, and 2011 was a difficult year in Turkey's relations with Russia in the security sphere. The year 2012 does not look much better.

There is no clear consensus in the academic literature as to how convergent or divergent Russo-Turkish energy interests are. This is the focus of this article. Is there a coherence between Turkey's energy policy and its general foreign policy? What is a "gas hub"? More academic work in needed in this area, including the consideration of the implications for European and Central Asian energy security and political relations.The years 2009- 2010 have seen sudden reversals of fortune in the acute geopolitical rivalries between Nabucco and South Stream. While uncertainty surrounding future demand and financing raised the possibility that neither pipeline ever become a reality, Moscow seemed to be gaining the upper hand. Nabucco was sinking. Turkey's stance between Nabucco and South Stream was pivotal. Turkey faced difficult choices between two competing and mutually exclusive energy supply routes. The Nabucco and post-Nabucco routes served Western Europe's interest in reducing its dependency on Russian gas, while South Stream would help Russia strengthen its position as the main energy producer for European and Turkish markets.

The natural disaster in Japan and revolutions in North Africa in the spring of 2011 ignited a new bout of the pipeline rivalry. By the end of 2011, Ankara had a pair of seemingly contradictory gas pipeline deals (both Nabucco and South Stream), which raised very interesting questions about the nature of Turkey's energy policy. Although both deals may be part of Ankara's plan to make itself a major energy transit hub, there was something that sounded dissonant about them coming so close together. With the Azeri agreement, Ankara appeared to be taking part in laying the groundwork for an energy corridor that would help Europe reduce its reliance on Russian gas and that would serve as a template for other pipeline projects- including, ideally, a modified version of the troubled Nabucco pipeline plan-that would bring non-Russian resources from the Caspian and the Middle East westward. On the other hand, with the Russian agreement, Ankara was now taking part in a project that many analysts see as designed to undermine Nabucco and the EU's plans to dilute Gazprom's influence in the European energy market.

The Russo-Turkish energy relationship is the most intimate aspect of the bilateral connection. Yet the evidence for an erosion of ties seemingly appeared to be contradicted by the December 30, 2011, Russo-Turkish energy agreement. On its face, this accord signals a high degree of amity and cooperation between Moscow and Ankara. If, however, one probes more deeply into both sides' energy goals and policies, it becomes clear that while this accord does signify positive aspects of the Russo-Turkish relationship, matters are much more complicated than a simple reading of the accord would indicate.


Turkish elites take it for granted that geography makes Turkey a predestined energy hub for the transit of Eurasian energy through its territory whether concerning the Russian South Stream pipeline, the EU's Nabucco pipeline, both of these systems, or other alternatives like interconnectors. …

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