Turkey's renewed quest for energy security

Turkey's renewed quest for energy security
6 min read
29 Dec, 2015
Comment: With a desire to reduce gas dependency on Russia amid a diplomatic crisis, Ankara is looking to its regional friends to help diversify its energy sources, writes Naveed Ahmad.
Russia's economic sanctions against Turkey risk gas deals and push Ankara to look elsewhere [Anadolu]

For centuries, Turkey and Russia have been the bitterest of enemies. The Ottoman and Russian empires fought scores of large wars. Modern Turkey and the Soviet Union were on opposing sides of the Cold War. Ankara was a front-line bulwark of NATO against Communism.

Since the breakup of the USSR, Turkey has been pro-actively reaching out to Central Asian Republics and Russia alike. Over the past two decades, back-to-back agreements acted as building blocks to a stronger relationship.

However, the uprising in Syria drive a wedge deep between Ankara and Moscow. The relations become highly strained with President Vladimir Putin's military entering Syria on the side of Bashar al-Assad. The downing of the intruding SU-24 jet sawthe last remaining signs of goodwill evaporate.

Ever since, Russia has been building a barrage of economic sanctions against Turkey - besides fortifying its military footprint in Syria. Turkey, which meets its domestic gas needs to the tune of 60 percent from Russian supplies, has been nervous at the prospect of a halt to gas imports.

After some threatening Russian statements, Turkey has been working to shore up other suppliers unaligned with the Kremlin. Given the interdependence between the two at multiple levels, Moscow's rage will also hurt itself - but the impact on Ankara couldbe anywhere between enormous and devastating.

Though Russian gas supplies to Turkey remain intact, Putin has suspended the ambitious $12 billion Turkish Stream project in his bid to deny Ankara central stage in the energy transit game. Moscow has been pinning greater strategic importance to the pipeline - which aimed to build EU dependence on Russia's supply lines.

Germany is the nation with the greatest energy dependence on Russia. But Turkey ranks a close second.

Germany is the nation with the greatest energy dependence on Russia. But Turkey ranks a close second.

Owing to political stability and better economic policies, Turkey's economy has grown significantly since 2001, more than tripling its overall gas demand from 15 billion cubic meters (bcm) then to more than 50bcm now. For the next decade, Turkey's energy needs are estimated to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent annually. Ankara is serious about increase its gas import capacity.

Turkey imports 14bcm natural gas from via Blue Stream and 14-15bcm via the Trans-Balkan Pipeline. The worsening situation in Syria can also endanger 10bcm of supplies from Iran, carried via the Tabriz-Ankara Pipeline.

So far the most secure supply channel for Turkey is the 6.6bcm it gets through the South Caucasus Pipeline from Azerbaijan.

Though Turkey enjoys remarkably good relations with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the pipeline from the Taq Taq field to Fesh Khabur near the border feeding into the Kirkuk-Ceyhan line has been an apple of discord between Ankara and Baghdad.

This pipeline has the potential to significantly address Ankara's renewed energy concerns. The KRG, meanwhile, is all set to declare independence from the Iraqi state, which has become non-functional over the past three years.

Given tense relations with Moscow, Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus, Ankara can immediately look towards friendly nations producing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Currently, the share of LNG in Turkey's energy mix rests at 13 percent with Algeria and Nigeria being the main suppliers.

But since Erdogan's recent visit to Qatar, officials in Ankara have been mulling over whether to import Qatari LNG to the tune of around 27bcm. Turkey will have to pay a higher price for the LNG (which is more expensive than natural gas), besides building an exceptionally large storage capacity.

The Turkish president's Doha visit, held shortly after the downing of the Russian fighter jet, was aimed at damage control and diversification.

Erdogan is on a visit to Saudi Arabia, the world's fourth-largest producer of natural gas, with estimated reserves of 6,796bcm.

It's worth mentioning here that Riyadh had given oil worth $1 billion - free of cost - when the West imposed sanctions on Pakistan after its nuclear tests in 1998. Turkey sees itself in a similar situation, while foreign policies of both nations complement each other as well.

Saudi Arabia is already using the oil price card to weaken Russia and its allies for "interfering" in Syria.

A recent thaw in the Israel-Turkey relationship, which has further warmed as the crisis with Russia has grown, is set to culminate in a breakthrough. Tel Aviv and Ankara are reported to be in the final stages of closing the chapter on the Mavi Marmara massacre with a financial and diplomatic settlement.

The resumption of full-fledged diplomatic relations will likely lead to Turkey's purchase of between 10bcm and 20bcm annually from Israel. Though Israeli gas may not offer short-term relief to Turkey, given the infrastructure development needed, the project has European and American support in terms of funding and political cover.

Read more: Could Turkey-Israel deal ease blockade on Gaza Strip?

The other long-term but sustainable solution for Turkey's gas needs lies in the Iraqi KRG, which can sustain an estimated production of 10bcm annually. Like the Israeli option, the KRG will need to be connected with gas processing plants and then a pipeline.

Unlike oil pipelines from the KRG, the gas export prospects are marred with security volatility in the presence of the Islamic State group.

Experts suggest that Turkey's non-Russian and non-Iranian energy security comes at a higher price - but with fewer risks.

Azerbaijan, however, emerges as the most affordable and reliable exporter in the Caspian Sea region. With the completion of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP), Turkey can receive up to 6bcm more gas annually from Azerbaijan's gas-rich Shah Deniz II fields.

Turkey's non-Russian and non-Iranian energy security comes at a higher price - but with fewer risks

The two countries are likely to follow an existing capacity expansion plan to eventually reach 31bcm capacity.

Though Turkmenistan holds the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves, the Kremlin will not let Turkey exploit them - even if bilateral relations return to normality. Russia will trump any ambition to change the Caspian Sea pipeline due to sheer competition.

While Turkey is not under immediate threat of serious energy shortages, particularly of natural gas, its growing needs and fluid security situation in the region dictate a delicate balance needed between various foreign policy goals.

Though Russia has hardened its position in Syria with military hardware as well as Putin's rhetoric, Turkey has exercised utmost restraint. In the words of a senior Turkish official, the lessons learned over the centuries are still very much relevant. Neither Russia nor Iran can be trusted beyond a point.

For that matter, Ankara will likely get cozier with the Arab world, Athens and Tel Aviv while strengthening already excellent relations with Baku. For Turkey, energy security will dictate its foreign policy within the regional neighbourhood - otherwise it risks its place in the prestigious clubs of the G20 and the EU.

For Russia, Turkey will continue to hold the key to the strategic leap into full European dependency on its petroleum. Note that Putin did not cancel - but suspended - the Turkish Stream project.

Ankara can neither bargain on Syria and national pride for Russian natural gas nor deny its industry and household increasing need for energy. The downing of the SU-24 has brought urgency to Turkey's already existing but callously approached need.

Naveed Ahmad is a Doha-based investigative journalist and academic with special focus on diplomacy, security and energy issues. Follow him on Twitter: @naveed360

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.