Friday

24th Jan 2020

Russia and Turkey turn on EU gas pipeline

  • Russian president Vladimir Putin (left of centre) and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right of centre) in Istanbul on Wednesday (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Russia and Turkey have turned on a new gas pipeline to the EU, continuing efforts to lock in Russia's best customer.

The "TurkStream" pipeline launch was "a very important event not only for Russia and Turkey, but also for the states of southern Europe, for the entire European continent", Russian president Vladimir Putin told press at a ceremony in Istanbul on Wednesday (8 January).

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  • TurkStream is a 930km pipeline from Russia to Turkey (Photo: kremlin.ru)

And European countries were "already expressing very great interest" in buying the gas, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Putin praised the pipeline as a feat of modern engineering.

"It is a high-tech project because the gas pipeline runs at tremendous depth, as well as in a very hostile environment," he said.

Erdogan said the enterprise recalled "Ottoman times", when "tsars" and "sultans" first built relations 500 years ago.

The leaders of Bulgaria and Serbia, who aim to pump the Russian gas onward to Austria, Greece, and Hungary, also went to Istanbul.

TurkStream is a 930km pipeline from Russia to Turkey dangling in the Black Sea at depths of up to 2km.

Half its volume is to go to European markets, reducing current Russian transit volumes via Ukraine, while the other half is to go to Turkey.

It is the southern counterpart of another new Russian pipeline, called "Nord Stream 2", across the Baltic Sea to Germany.

Their critics say they will entrench EU energy dependence on Russia and enable the Kremlin to cut off energy supplies to Western allies such as Poland or Ukraine for political motives in future.

The US, last month, imposed sanctions on both TurkStream and Nord Stream 2 in the name of deterring "Russian aggression" in Europe.

These were too late to stop the Turkey initiative.

They did interrupt construction of the last segment of Nord Stream 2 by forcing a Swiss pipe-laying vessel to abandon work.

But Russia has said it might use its own ship to complete the job, albeit with some delay.

Locked-in

Russia has also said it would reduce supplies to Europe via Ukraine by more than one third in the next few years to guarantee markets for the new pipelines.

And the TurkStream inauguration came amid Turkey's efforts to block other EU alternatives.

Cyprus, Greece, and Israel recently agreed to build a gas pipeline crossing the eastern Mediterranean.

The 1,900km "EastMed" project is to pump gas to southern Europe from Israeli and Cypriot waters from 2025.

But Turkey and Libya have declared a new maritime boundary in the area which EastMed would have to cross, giving Erdogan a veto.

Turkey has also started drilling for gas in Cypriot-claimed waters despite EU complaints, throwing a second spanner in the works.

And Erdogan redoubled on his position with Putin on Wednesday.

"Turkey has the longest coast in this region ... and, of course, we have the right to speak our word with respect to any project," he said on the Libya maritime boundary.

"Turkey does not want any global tension. Our only goal is that our country, [and] that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, protect their interests," he added on the Cyprus gas drilling, referring to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, the remnant of a conflict on the island some 45 years ago.

Iran tensions

Putin and Erdogan also met amid fears of a new Middle East conflagration involving the US and Iran.

They "heard military reports" on the situation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, after Putin came to Istanbul straight from Damascus.

"Turkey would not want Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf to become a war scene," Erdogan said.

But he warned that "Iraq is at risk of losing stability" and of being "split by terrorist groups" after the US and Iran began to exchange fire on Iraqi territory.

Russia has also sold Turkey air-defence systems in the teeth of US sanctions and Nato objections.

But Putin and Erdogan are adversaries on the battlefields of Libya and Syria, where they have backed opposing sides in proxy wars.

"Despite the complex international situation ... our work is proceeding steadily," Putin said on Wednesday.

"In the future, Russia and Turkey will implement many more ... joint projects," he also said.

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