On 8th of January 2020, presidents of Turkey and Russia officially start the operation of TurkStream natural gas pipeline in Istanbul. Path towards the realization of this project was not that easy. In December 2014, Russian President V. Putin’s visit to Ankara was marked by the announcement of stopping the South Stream and propounding the TurkStream gas pipeline project instead. After up and down in bilateral relations, the parties signed an inter-governmental agreement for the project in October 2016.
The TurkStream has pivotal role since it now concretely shows not only eagerness but also readiness of parties to develop a strategic cooperation. The project consists of two parallel lines with 15.75 billion cubic meters annual capacity. The TurkStream is envisaged to deliver gas for both Turkish and South East European markets from Russkaya compressor station in Black Sea cost of Russia. The 14 bcm annually contracted Russian gas that is currently imported by Turkish firms through Ukraine-Moldovia-Romania-Bulgaria route is diverted to this new infrastructure. Almost the same amount is planned for European markets through Bulgarian transit with the commission of the second line. For the second line a 50-50 % joint venture transmission company is founded between the Gazprom and Botaş to own and operate the pipeline on Turkish territory. This company will not involve in trade and marketing. By end of the year, the second leg of the pipeline is expected to deliver Russian gas to Serbia and Hungary if Sofia will be able to complete the construction work in its territory.
Main motive for the Gazprom to implement huge energy projects such as Nord Stream 2 and the TurkStream 2 is to get rid of transit risks stemming from Ukrainian route. Meanwhile, former transport agreement between Ukrainian Naftogaz and Russian Gazprom ended and the parties replaced old contract with a new 5-year deal during the last days of 2019. Accordingly, at lowest level 65 bcm of Russian gas for 2020 and 40 bcm gas for the following four years through Ukrainian grid are guaranteed under the ‘ship or pay’ conditions. On the other hand, both TurkStream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines are sanctioned by US Congress. However, it is expected that the construction will continue and within a year both projects will become fully active. Moscow will be able to reach its long-term geopolitical strategy to downgrade importance of Ukrainian route.
The Turkish Stream is a good opportunity for Turkey as well since the project is a catalyst of change for the better relations with Russia. From Turkey’s perspective, this project will not transform Turkey into a gas trading hub but it is beneficial for the country’s energy security in the sense that Turkey will be able to import all its gas needs from Russia directly so she will get rid of transit risks. More importantly, Ankara could strive to remove itself from the position of “end user” for Russian gas and focus much more on becoming an “intermediate user” when the second line will be operational.
The project also gives a strategic leverage to Ankara as it gets Turkey closer with Russia in a time when the former’s relations with the West are severely problematic. Turkey feels threatened by US policies in Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. Ankara is looking for alternative ways to mitigate Western threats to its vital interests in the region. In that sense, delivery of Russian S-400 defense missiles is representing the new understanding in Turkish national security paradigm so geopolitically speaking these projects are in favor of Turkey as well as Russia.
The main feature of Turkish-Russian relations was pragmatism and economic cooperation for previous decades and both parties see each other as an instrument to use in their complicated relations with the West. Nevertheless, transformation of international system, from unipolar to multipolar world order and from West-centric to Multi-centric, challenges this conventional wisdom. Thanks to the realization of both the S-400 deliveries and the TurkStream project it is now possible to talk about a deeper and emerging strategic cooperation between Ankara and Moscow although there are some holdups in some issue areas such as Idlib and Libya.