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Is TurkStream a threat to Turkey's relationship with the US?

From L: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic attend an inauguration ceremony of a new gas pipeline "TurkStream" on January 8, 2020 in Istanbul [ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images]
From L: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic attend an inauguration ceremony of a new gas pipeline "TurkStream" on January 8, 2020 in Istanbul [ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images]

Turkey's TurkStream gas pipeline is an important part of a mega gas project that complements Russia's Nord Stream-2 pipeline, which will carry natural gas supplies to Europe. For Russia, it is critical, given that the EU is Moscow's largest natural gas export market.

Russia's energy giant Gazprom has already made significant investment through its diplomatic partnership with Turkey. This week, Gazprom announced that the $11 billion Nord Stream-2's final section has been completed.

The geopolitical importance of this project was highlighted in January, when the presidents of Turkey and Russia formally launched TurkStream, which will carry Russian natural gas to southern Europe through Turkey. Gazprom and Turkey's state-run BOTAŞ are completing the final phase of construction of TurkStream 2 jointly. From Turkey, the pipeline continues under the name "Balkan Stream" to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

The pipeline project stretches 930 km across the Black Sea and reinforces strong energy ties between Moscow and Ankara. This development adds to their defence cooperation since Turkey bought the advanced Russian S-400 missile defence system in 2019, which created a problem between Ankara and Washington.

It is, therefore, undeniable that TurkStream has the potential to pose a second challenge for the relationship with the US. While Turkey tries to preserve its energy security and boost its economy, it also seeks to protect itself from US sanctions.

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Last year, the US announced a bill expanding sanctions on Russia's Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream 2 pipelines. Washington said that they will boost Moscow's economic and political influence in Germany and other European countries. Congress and successive US administrations have expressed concern over Nord Stream 2, TurkStream and other projects which they claim will deepen Europe's reliance on Russian natural gas, reduce Ukraine's role as a transit state and perhaps be a source of increased leverage for Russia.

According to John Bowlus, the editor-in-chief of Energy Reporters, Ankara's interests in TurkStream 2 are marginal. He states that more Russian gas passing through Turkey via TurkStream 2 will only yield pipeline transit fees. Moreover, it competes with Turkey's natural gas aims, which are threefold.

"First and foremost," says Bowlus, "[Turkey wants to] develop the 320 billion-cubic-metre Sakarya gas field in the Black Sea; block competing flows from the eastern Mediterranean and Russia; and facilitate more gas carried by seaborne tankers."

Many politicians and energy companies in Germany support Nord Stream 2, as Europe's biggest economy seeks to end the use of coal and nuclear power. Instead of having a fight with the US, Germany negotiated with Washington, and in July the two unveiled an agreement on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. According to this deal, Berlin pledged to respond to any attempt by Russia to use energy as a weapon against Ukraine and other Central and Eastern European countries.

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It is known that the Trump administration opposed the pipeline, which would allow Russia to export gas directly to Germany and potentially cut off other nations. However, President Joe Biden's administration does not want to kill it with sanctions. Instead, it has opted to negotiate with Germany. Washington clearly does not want to harm relations with its largest ally in Europe.

Will the US display the same eagerness about not harming relations with Turkey? The answer to this critical question may well lie in Turkey's membership of NATO. After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan it is no secret that NATO would like Turkey to play a pivotal role in stabilising the country. For this reason and no other, Washington may not want to damage its relations with Ankara.

For the latter, both Gazprom's TurkStream and the umbrella Nord Stream 2 will strengthen ties with Russia. However, this should not be viewed as an alternative to the US or NATO. As Turkey remains a transit country in this project, the main US aim is to protect Ukraine's rights and contain Russia. As long as Turkey protects Ukraine and works with the US to prevent Russian aggression in Ukraine, TurkStream will not join the S-400 missile controversy as a new challenge to US-Turkey relations.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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