Energy Issues Complicate Turkish-Russian Relations

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 150

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meeting with Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, May 16, 2009.

On August 6 the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit Ankara. As a part of the continued bilateral dialogue Putin will meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss economic and energy issues as well as ways to enhance relations between the two countries. Putin’s visit was planned during Erdogan’s visit to Moscow in May of this year (Anadolu Ajansi, May 17, August 5).

During Putin’s visit energy issues are expected to dominate the agenda. Turkish sources confirm that "cooperation in the field of energy will be the primary issue on the agenda" (, August 4). On energy issues, the renewal of the contract under which Turkey purchases 6 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually of natural gas from Russia and various pipeline projects will be the main focus of discussions. Turkey transports natural gas from Russia via two routes. The western route reaches Turkey via Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. The other route uses the pipeline that goes under the Black Sea, (Blue Stream). The contract under which Turkey purchases gas through the Western route will expire in 2011. Ankara and Moscow must negotiate the quantity of gas as well as agree on its price. However, there is also a possibility that Russia might want to replace the Western route with a new pipeline to be constructed in parallel to the existing one in the Black Sea. This project, Blue Stream 2, is also an issue of interest to Israel, which plans to buy natural gas from Russia (Hurriyet Daily News, August 5).

In order to finalize the energy projects for signing bilateral agreements the Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko traveled to Ankara two days before Putin to meet with his Turkish counterpart Taner Yildiz (Zaman, August 5).

The competition between Turkey and Russia on energy transportation was further complicated after the signing of the Nabucco agreement last month. Russia has long opposed oil supply to pipeline projects from Samsun to Ceyhan that aims to shortcut oil transportations using the Istanbul and Dardanelle channels to reach the Mediterranean. The Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline project was planned by a private Turkish energy company Calik Holding and the Italian energy company ENI in 2005 (, November 10, 2005). However, due to Russian resistance toward supplying oil to the pipeline the project has been delayed. The Turkish press has speculated that Moscow intends to supply oil to the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline and both energy ministers have prepared protocols to sign during Putin’s visit to Ankara (Star, August 5).

After the signing of the long-delayed accord to build the Nabucco pipeline, Russia intensified its efforts to advocate the South Stream gas pipeline. Shmatko defined the South Stream gas pipeline as a "global project" (Zaman, August 5). Turkey is pivotal to Russian plans to promote South Stream and seeks Ankara’s support to have the pipeline pass through Turkish territorial waters in the Black Sea in order to bypass Ukrainian waters. Reportedly, during Putin’s visit to Ankara, Erdogan will reveal his position on the South Stream project. It is also believed that both sides will sign a protocol that allows Russia to conduct seismic examination on the Turkish side of the Black Sea, which is considered as the first step toward implementing the South Stream energy pipeline (Zaman, August 5). Yildiz stated that Turkey will make its final decision on whether to enter a partnership with Russia on the South Stream pipeline project or simply allow Russia to use its territory to bypass Ukrainian territorial waters (Radikal, August 5).

In addition to the discussions on South Stream and the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline projects nuclear energy projects will also be a high priority in the meeting between Erdogan and Putin. In 2008 Turkey opened a tender to construct the country’s first nuclear power plant. A Russian-Turkish consortium offered the sole bid. Since then the Russian authorities have increased pressure on Ankara to make a final decision on allowing the Russian-Turkish consortium to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant (EDM, March 19). The Turkish press suggested that Ankara and Moscow had reached an agreement centered on the supply of Russian oil to the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline and in return Turkey will allow the Russian-Turkish consortium to build the nuclear power plant (Radikal, August 5).

Yildiz has stated on a number of occasions that Turkey does not consider South Scream as an alternative to Nabucco and declared that it would join the South Stream project (Radikal, July 18). Perhaps related to Ankara’s aim that Turkey will become a future energy hub for Europe it may possibly join South Stream on the condition that it does not damage the Nabucco project.