Ankara appears to have embraced a recent proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin to turn Turkey into a regional hub for the distribution of Russian natural gas.
“We have agreed with Vladimir Putin to create a gas hub in our country, through which natural gas… can be transported to Europe,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on October 19.
But some energy experts are skeptical of the plan, given the region’s complex political and economic circumstances.
“I doubt the proposal will yield practical results, at least in the short term,” Mehmet Ogutcu, director of the London Energy Club, a UK-based think tank, told The Epoch Times.
He added: “Putin is playing on Turkey’s dream of becoming an energy transit hub, something he has longed for for a long time.”
Last week, Putin met Erdogan in Astana, the Kazakh capital, where he reportedly floated the idea of turning Turkey into a hub for transporting Russian gas.
At the meeting, Putin reportedly offered Russian aid for the construction of a distribution center in Turkey for the re-export of Russian gas to third countries, including those in the European Union.
A few days later, Erdogan announced that Turkey and Russia had agreed to start work on a gas distribution center in the Thrace region in northwestern Turkey.
Turkey is already a major consumer of Russian gas, which accounts for nearly half of its overall gas imports. Russian gas is delivered to Turkey through the TurkStream gas pipeline, which stretches 930 kilometers (580 miles) under the Black Sea.
Ogutcu, for his part, questions the viability of the plan.
“Europe is facing unprecedented energy shortages, which are likely to persist for the next two years,” he said. “But a new European energy architecture – which does not rely on Russian gas – is being put in place.”
This, he added, along with the European Union’s reluctance to buy Russian gas, “will decrease the likelihood that Turkey will ever become a hub for Russian gas to Europe.”
Modification of the energy map
Other observers, however, are more optimistic about the initiative’s prospects.
According to Sergei Kondratiev, an official at Russia’s Energy and Finance Institute, the proposed arrangement promises to “change the energy map of Europe”.
Speaking to Russian media, Kondratiev said that if the project materializes, Turkey would become “Europe’s biggest gas hub, if not the only one”.
Proponents of the program predict the emergence of two distinct European energy markets. While northern Europe would buy more expensive liquefied gas from the United States and Norway, southern and central Europe would have access to much cheaper gas via Turkey.
Regardless of the plan’s ultimate viability, it appears to have drawn the ire of the US administration. Washington remains wary of what it sees as deepening ties between Moscow and Ankara, particularly in the energy field.
This week, the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes at the US Treasury Department visited Turkey. During the visit, she met behind closed doors with several officials, including the governor of Turkey’s central bank.
The visit was widely seen as a wake-up call to Ankara, which, despite its long-standing membership in NATO, has refused to support Western-led sanctions against Russia.
According to a Treasury Department statement, Rosenberg’s visit to Turkey “confirmed the importance of the close partnership between the United States and Turkey in addressing the risks posed by the evasion of sanctions and other illicit financial activities.” .
Putin unveiled his ambitious proposal following a series of attacks on Russian gas pipelines under the Baltic and Black Seas.
Last month, the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which connects gas fields in Russia to northern Europe, was intentionally drilled in four different areas. The incidents prompted a wave of recriminations, as well as investigations by several European governments.
In a less widely reported incident, Russian authorities in mid-October arrested several people for allegedly attempting to sabotage the TurkStream gas pipeline.
“Pipeline sabotage has become a main feature of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict,” Ogutcu said. “Shortly after the attacks on Nord Stream, Russia reports an attempt on TurkStream. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
While the Kremlin blamed Ukrainian agents for this latest attack, which allegedly took place on Russian territory, the perpetrators of the Nord Stream attack remain unknown, at least to the public.
On October 14, Swedish authorities abruptly halted joint investigations into the Nord Stream incident, citing “national security” concerns.
According to Ogutcu, there is a “widespread belief” that the attacks on the pipelines were carried out by parties “who sought to cripple Russia’s ability to export gas”.
On October 21, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the truth about the Nord Stream incident would “surprise” Europeans if it were ever made public. He did not specify.
When Russia began military operations in Ukraine on February 24, Ankara, like its NATO allies, quickly condemned the move. Turkey has also provided Ukraine with a steady supply of Bayraktar combat drones.
Nevertheless, Ankara has firmly refrained from supporting Western sanctions against Russia, with which it shares an extensive trade relationship and a long maritime border.
“Turkey does not want to compromise its interests,” said Ogutcu, a former adviser to the Turkish prime minister. “He wants balanced relations with Russia, the United States, the EU and other powers.”
Turkey’s relatively good relations with Russia have allowed it to mediate between the two warring sides. In July, Ankara helped broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine that allowed the latter to resume grain shipments through the Black Sea.
“Turkey is the only country in the western world that can talk to both sides,” Ogutcu said.
In August, Erdogan had an amicable meeting with Putin in Sochi, where the two leaders agreed to improve bilateral relations, especially in the areas of trade and energy.
Since then, they have met twice more, raising concerns in Western capitals that Turkey is slipping deeper into Moscow’s orbit. Last month, Erdogan went so far as to berate the West for its “provocative policy” towards Russia.
“There is personal chemistry between Putin and Erdogan,” Ogutcu said. “Despite their differences – in Syria, the Caucasus and the Black Sea – they can still sit down and talk to each other.”
Ogutcu contrasted this with Turkey’s “often strained relations” with Brussels and Washington.
“Turkey was not adopted by the West,” he said. “There is a general feeling in Turkey that its [Western] the allies failed to provide him with adequate support.
On Oct. 21, the Kremlin reaffirmed its commitment to the joint energy project, but said “a number of details” still needed to be ironed out.