Turkey’s role in the transit of regional energy supplies has been likened to a sandwich: the upper slice has Russian gas, the lower slice has east Mediterranean and Caucasian gas, and the filling in the middle is the Southern Gas Corridor. This was the image depicted by Vedat Yorucu and Ozay Mehmet in their book, The Southern Energy Corridor: Turkey’s Role in European Energy Security. It illustrates tellingly Turkey’s current position as a pivotal hub in the Southern Energy Corridor between the energy-rich regions of the north and those of Europe in the south.
Speaking at the end of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin last week, the bloc’s Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell threatened that new sanctions could be imposed to limit Turkey’s energy exploration activities by targeting individuals and ships, and blocking the use of European ports. Economic sanctions are also a possibility, he warned, adding that any decision on such measures would be left until the EU summit on 24-25 September.
Greece has been a vocal advocate for sanctions against Turkey and it now seems that its appeals might have been successful. However, the likelihood of any blockade against Turkey is unrealistic and remote. For all practical purposes, both Europe and Turkey are obliged by geopolitical circumstances to remain energy partners.
In this context, Turkey’s importance lies primarily in its potential for becoming a secure and independent route for the import of non-Russian energy supplies into Europe. This importance has increased given the existing tensions in EU–Russian energy relations. As such, before conceding to Greek demands for punitive sanctions against Turkey, Europe must consider carefully the inevitable consequences for its own energy security.
The EU is one of the world’s largest importers of energy resources, especially natural gas. This dependency highlights concerns about the security of energy supplies, especially from regions that are vulnerable to socio-economic instability or geopolitical conflicts.
One of the main energy pipelines for secure supplies is the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP). Its function is to deliver natural gas produced from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz-2 gas field, and other areas of the Caspian Sea, primarily to Turkey, but also to Europe.
TANAP highlights Turkey’s key role in the security of Europe’s energy supplies. The 1,850 kilometre pipeline carries gas to Turkish, Georgian and European markets. While Turkey receives 6 billion cubic metres of gas, an additional 10 billion cubic metres will be transferred to the European gas network via another project, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). Meanwhile, Russia’s occupation of the Crimea and possible annexation of eastern Ukrainian regions demonstrate Europe’s vulnerability to Russian Gazprom’s energy power. Whatever the EU’s reactions, diversification of energy supply to diminish Russia’s market share is likely to be one of them. Hence, TAP is also one step towards the strategic goal of diminishing Gazprom’s huge presence in Europe.
Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe, has been dependent on Russian gas for a long time. Russia enjoys a de facto monopoly on gas supplies to the Baltic States, Slovakia, Moldova or Bulgaria, to name just a few customers.
Evidently, these projects are beneficial to both sides of the supply chain. Gas-rich countries such as Azerbaijan are eager to participate in building gas pipelines that will allow them to ship gas directly to end consumers in Europe, bypassing Russia. This is especially important for Azerbaijan, which is trying to pursue a more independent foreign policy than most of the other former Soviet countries, excluding the Baltic States.
On the other hand, according to a report published by Mott MacDonald Energy Consultancy Group, EU gas demand is unlikely to increase significantly due to a weak economic recovery in the gas-intensive European industry sector, together with improved insulation of apartment buildings and more efficient use of renewable energy sources across the continent.
In an article written for Bloomberg, former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza advocates for the construction of a submarine pipeline from Israel to Turkey, which would carry exported gas from the still to be developed Israeli offshore Leviathan field. He argues that the economically viable pipeline might be a catalyst for improving relations between Israel and Turkey, and also between Turkey and Cyprus.
In as much as the European Union may want to placate the Greek government, it cannot afford to endanger the energy security of the region. If only as a matter of self-interest, the EU is obliged to work harder to unblock energy talks. Brussels must reset its approach to Ankara and discuss how Turkey’s own plans fit into the EU’s emerging energy policy, rather than protecting Greek “rights”. Clearly, without an honest and constructive dialogue with Turkey, the EU’s energy security remains seriously endangered.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.