Commentary, Economy

Turkey is bound to become a regional energy hub

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If TANAP and Turkish Stream successfully create the expected synergy, Turkey will become both a regional energy hub and a major player in global energy diplomacy.

The concept of “energy supply security” was the most important conceptual innovation introduced to the academic literature by the two oil crises in the 1970s. Since then, this concept has been remembered as a result of various geostrategic risks and developments in international politics, creating new geopolitical advantages for transit countries. As energy supply security became an even more crucial issue in the increasingly volatile and fast changing globalized economy, the uninterrupted production and safe transfer of oil and natural gas became a vital issue for the sustainability of major economies, especially in the Middle East.

While certain countries have taken advantage of this conundrum because they were blessed with rich, strategically important hydrocarbon resources, countries such as Turkey that holds a unique geostrategic position on trade and energy routes gained systemic importance. Over the course of the last decade, Turkey’s critical geostrategic location has both facilitated the achievement of a major expansion in international trade and also provided great leverage in Eurasian energy politics. The Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), which contains several interconnected projects, namely the South Caucasian Pipeline (SCP), Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) and Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), envisions the transfer of 1.2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas from the Shahdeniz field in the Caspian Sea to Europe through Turkey. The SGC’s vision is hailed as one of the key energy projects designed to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russia energy. Following the geostrategic crisis in Ukraine during which Russian President Vladimir Putin did not hesitate to use the energy card against the European Union, alternative projects that bypasses the troubled north of the Black Sea such as the SGC gained greater importance.

As the first direct energy pipeline stretching from the Caspian Sea to Europe, TANAP was launched in 2012 and constituted one of the most important steps to transform Turkey into a regional energy hub following the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipelines. TANAP will stretch across Turkey from the east to the west, and travel through 21 cities from Ardahan to Kirklareli – thereby delivering the benefits of cost-efficient energy to a wider geography. The planned capacity of the pipeline is to reach 16 billion cubic meters in 2018, which will be increased to 23 billion cubic meters by 2023 and 31 billion cubic meters by 2026. TANAP will make a crucial contribution to Turkey’s vision to emerge as a regional energy hub, increase its competitiveness, improve employment facilities and raise awareness about energy investment.

During his historic visit to Ankara, Putin made a grandiose and surprising move by declaring that Gazprom will scrap the construction of the South Stream project and will construct a 63 billion cubic meter natural gas pipeline to Turkey underneath the Black Sea instead. Turkey and Russia also signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of an energy hub on the Turkey-Greece border. In Turkish-Russian relations, the critical decision for long-term energy cooperation through the proposed Turkish Stream pipeline constitutes a real watershed, as replacing Ukraine as the main route to transport Russian gas to Europe will greatly bolster Turkey’s geo-economic significance. The decision also demonstrates that Turkey is maturing as an emerging power that can pursue its national interests on energy issues despite various pressures. As Turkey imports around 60 percent of its natural gas from Russia, Ankara is rightly keen to become an active partner for Moscow in the conduction of energy diplomacy. This new situation might be uncomfortable for some of the previously important players in the energy field such as Ukraine, which are losing their prominence due to domestic instability and unconditional allegiance to Western strategies. There are technicalities to be solved, but if TANAP and Turkish Stream successfully create the expected synergy, Turkey will become both a regional energy hub and a major player in global energy diplomacy.

Resource: Daily Sabah, January 24, 2015

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Sadik Unay completed his B.A. in Politics and International Relations at Bogazici University. He continued with his M.A. and Ph.D. studies at Manchester University. He is currently a faculty member at Istanbul University, Economics department.