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Ankara partners fetched themselves in an equally poor situation

TURKEY — RUSSIA — EUROPEAN UNION TRIANGLE. Ankara partners fetched themselves in an equally poor situation

When Russia and China vetoed the resolution on Syria (essentially the same as Libyan one), Erdoğan decided to deliver the fairest justice all by himself. Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad, who "filled up the cup of his patience", was notified that "veto won’t stop Turkey and other countries (including the EU) from imposing sanctions against Damascus".

When crisis comes — be it military-political or purely financial one — apparently negative consequences are often accompanied by the ones of another sort. The states that somehow managed to stay away from chaos, which the neighboring countries, blocs and alliances submerged into, gain all the greater influence. Sometimes the crisis transformations are so huge that we may even herald the emergence of a new system of power centers. Turkey may undoubtedly be considered one. Its leadership seemingly intends to restore the former greatness of the Ottoman Empire and determine the destinies of both East and Europe, traditionally blindsiding Russia in passing.

When it comes to East, Prime Minister Erdoğan sticks to a policy well-tested by his crown-bearing predecessors — he "railroads" the policy that benefits Turkey through hard-ball policy, military threats and angry rhetoric. When Russia and China vetoed the resolution on Syria (essentially the same as Libyan one), Erdoğan decided to deliver the fairest justice all by himself. Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad, who "filled up the cup of his patience", was notified that "veto won’t stop Turkey and other countries (including the EU) from imposing sanctions against Damascus".

Ankara has independently imposed arms embargo to Syria and also announced the development of the new "sanctions package". Turkish Prime Minister promised to disclose "in the end of this week". Simultaneously with that Turkey proclaimed its readiness to fight against Israel, which "presents a nuclear threat for Turkey" and stand for its rights for the oil-bearing Mediterranean shelf with its navy. This said, it’s clear that Ankara is all set with the military initiatives — political will, desire and opportunities are present as long as Turkey has the second largest army in the NATO falling behind the USA alone.

As for Europe and Russia, Turkey won’t literally fight them. Yet, it has plenty of means to influence economics and politics. The most interesting thing is that Europe has single-handedly created the conditions for that and brought Turkey up to pedestal. Standing upon it, Turkey is free to threat both Russia and Europe itself.

It is well-known that right now the EU carries out a full-scale administrative and legal reform signified by the motto "let’s say a decisive ‘no’ to Gazprom". Those innovations offer decreasing share of Russian gas at the European market, make Russian company decrease the gas price, rob Gazprom of the slightest opportunity to control the gas transit systems, secure the gas supplies from the alternative providers. For this sake a number of administrative and bureaucratic attacks against European Gazprom subsidiaries were attempted and several legal measures, driving the Russian company into the bed of European- Commission requirements, were undertaken.

It is another matter that the EU picked the worst possible moment to start a local economic war against Gazprom, including the "Turkish" factor here. From the standpoint of the EU-Turkish relationship they should have started the search of new gas deposits and means of their transit either before or after the period of an unbelievably fierce geopolitical activity of Ankara.

The destiny of the South Stream project, which is to go through the Turkish waters of Black Sea, depends upon Turkey. Ankara has demonstrated a classic Realpolitik approach in that regard — it has taken the greatest possible advantage out of its geographic situation, demanding give-and-takes from Russia and replying that the official approval of the South Stream is nigh. Simultaneously with that Turkey played a similar role in the Nabucco project, the essence of which is to achieve the previously mentioned greatest goal of the European Commission — to infringe upon the interests of Gazprom and Russia itself as a transit country. However, until Nabucco project was a hollow name without as much as a provider, hardly any effect might have been expected from playing its card. Negotiations regarding Russian pipelines went on in one plane, negotiations regarding the prospect of the euro-integration and the future role of Ankara in the joint energy ventures — in a completely different one.

And suddenly European energy bureaucrats decided to make Turkey a wonderful gift, opening the unknown horizons of cross politics for Ankara. The EU through the European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger sounded up the intention to buy gas from Turkmenistan and revive Nabucco project having attached the Trans-Caspian to it. From that moment on Turkey turned into a player that is not only capable of holding independent negotiations with rivals but also to generate the conditions, fiddle with the mutual contradictions of countries that share their concern in Turkey and promote their interests in both directions, feeling utterly comfortable.

As an indemnification for rendering its territory and sea waters for laying Nabucco pipeline Turkey demanded the long-awaited membership in the EU from this organization. If Prime Minister Erdoğan doesn’t quiver to send Turkish ships in order to improve his positions of shale gas production, he’d hardly be shy to use the unique chance of Nabucco for bringing the main Turkish dream of last decade to life. Turkey also gains an opportunity to influence Germany through the EU — right now their relations aren’t going through the best of times. Besides, Turkey becomes immune from European protests and sanctions, getting a carte-blanche for reformatting the Middle East into the way they need it to be. Hardly anyone will oppose the attempts of Turkish oil industry workers to get a hold of Cypriote shelf. Besides, Turkey may painlessly — and for quite a time — "choose" between South Stream and Nabucco, achieving all the more significant preference from all sides of the negotiations. Actually, Turkey gains even more than a formal EU membership — it will control a lion’s share of the energy supplies, coming to Europe. Moreover, Turkey already insists on an exclusive right to sell the gas at the European market, although the gas was produced by some third parties in third countries.

However, the EU actions in regard of Nabucco still stick to their initial positions and it’s too early for Ankara "to exert pressure" upon the EU. Still, the way Turkey will act in such beneficial situation is vividly demonstrated on the example of Gazprom. Turkish leadership also wages a full-fledged attack at Gazprom, although theirs is rather psychological. At first, Turkish government categorically demanded Gazprom to reduce the gas price and then announced that they refused prolonging the contract that expires on the 31st of December.

Actually, this fact doesn’t look a disaster; expiring contract stipulates merely a third of the general volume of Russian gas supplies and Turkey won’t be physically possible to renounce it. Even Turkish statement isn’t really commercial — in fact the contract was concluded between Gazprom and Botas. There are also some doubts that Turkey may stop using Russian gas the way it promised to. Turkey consumes about 30 billion cubic meters a year, while Russian share makes up merely 18 billion. Yet, even if we suggest that Turkish government decides to reduce its production, decrease the energy and gas consumption, Gazprom strategic supplies won’t suffer much. The negotiations on the gas supplies, exceeding the Turkish ones, with South and North Korea are already on; private Turkish companies are ready to buy the "spare" gas (Turkish authorities believe it is spare indeed).

However, these conflicts clearly show the negotiation prospects of the South Stream — securing Turkish consent would really be an unconventional task. As far back as in 2008, having stood much worse negotiation grounds, Turkey demanded cheap gas and construction of the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline in exchange for its signature. It is intended to transit oil — mostly Russian — roundabout Bosporus strait, cargo transit through which Turkey has limited. The transit fare was quite substantial, while the dubiousness of its profitability for Russia was obvious. It is non-surprising that on the 5th of September the negotiations have ended up with nothing. Transiting oil to Europe in a conventional way (through Bosporus) now costs Russian companies $6-8 per ton, while the cost of transiting it through Samsun-Ceyhan would have increased up to $19-20. According to Transneft Vice-President Mikhail Barkov, oil pipeline project might be considered lucrative only in case of emergencies and natural disasters in the Straits. Are there any doubts that Turkey will necessarily remind everyone of Samsun-Ceyhan during the South Stream negotiations?

Until the European Commission initiative to resurrect Nabucco and "neutralize" Gazprom, Turkey presented separate problems for Russia and Europe. Thanks to the efforts of European Commissioners for Energy Russia and Europe were put into equally weak negotiation positions, where they’d be forced to sacrifice huge shares of profits and economies to Turkey.

By Andrey Polevoy




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