Ankara’s recent announcement in June 2023 on reducing Turkey’s heavy dependence on Russian gas has sent shockwaves through regional energy sectors. Berris Ekinci, acting general director of the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Energy Department, made this groundbreaking statement during an energy security conference held in Washington. Currently standing at 36 or 37 percent of Turkish consumption, the reliance on Russian gas has raised concerns over geopolitical vulnerabilities and economic constraints (Report.az, June 15). In diversifying its gas sources, Ankara is looking toward opportunities in the Caspian Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and exploring new potential sources in Iraq. In 2021, Turkey imported approximately 44.9 percent of its natural gas supplies from Russia, 16 percent from Iran, 15 percent from Azerbaijan, 10.2 percent from Algeria and 8.1 percent from the United States (21yyte.org, June 19). Thus, it seems that the implications of this ambitious endeavor will be far-reaching, setting the stage for intense geopolitical maneuvering and shaping the future dynamics of the regional energy landscape.
In May 2023, Ankara and Moscow agreed to postpone payments for Russian gas to Turkey that exceed an undisclosed threshold (Sozcu.com.tr, May 3). At the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2023, Russia expressed expectations for accelerating its proposed gas hub project in Turkey, with Gazprom submitting a conceptual document for its development (Ensonhaber.com, June 16).
Overall, the recent surge in energy prices has led to a doubling of Turkey’s energy imports, prompting assertive energy diplomacy by Ankara (Sozcu.com.tr, May 3). As such, Turkey aims to become a central hub for gas exports to Europe. It seeks to attract international investments from prominent oil and gas companies to bolster its energy sector and become a more active player in global markets (Kibristurk.com, June 12). Thus, the Turkish government, this year, announced plans to start implementing the gas distribution center project as proposed by Moscow, following negotiations with other gas-supplying countries to ensure sufficient supplies for this potential hub. While this may be seen as Turkey deepening its dependence on Russia, Ankara has voiced its intentions to utilize the gas hub not only for Russian gas but also for energy exports from other countries.
Moreover, Turkey continues its uninterrupted drilling activities. Prospects are growing for natural gas deposits in the Kastamonu, Ordu and Rize regions along the Mediterranean and Black Sea coastlines (Turkiyegazetesi.com, May 28). And record-breaking production is expected in the Black Sea, as well as Gabar and Kato regions. Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Alparslan Bayraktar highlighted the intensive search efforts at sea and significant results from drilling activities. He mentioned the recent discovery of the Sakarya Gas Field, Turkey’s largest, and emphasized the intensified operations in unexplored regions. Indeed, these efforts are crucial for meeting 20 percent of the country’s energy needs (Turkiyegazetesi.com, June 25). President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement caused quite a stir, as he revealed that, once this project reaches full capacity, it could cover approximately 30 percent of Turkey’s annual energy needs. This ambitious undertaking not only aims to significantly reduce Ankara’s reliance on imported natural gas but also has the potential to reshape the country’s energy landscape (Liberbursa.com, April 21). Additionally, the Turkish government is actively mobilizing its entire electricity potential, encompassing nuclear power, solar and wind energy, as well as hydroelectricity.
Another important project in Turkey’s attempt to reduce its gas dependence on Russia is the Trans-Caspian Oil Pipeline. According to Oğuzhan Akyener, president of the Center for Energy Strategies and Politics Research in Turkey, the countries most eager for the realization of this pipeline are Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The project is designed to transport oil and natural gas from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, and from there, to international markets. The project consists of two sections: an oil pipeline carrying oil from Kazakhstan to Baku and a gas pipeline transporting natural gas from Turkmenbashi to Baku (Turkiyeiyigazete.com, June 13). Turkey has voiced its support for this project, as the country will be a key link in passing energy supplies on to Europe.
Hence, Turkey has adopted a comprehensive policy aimed at diminishing its reliance on natural gas by actively incorporating alternative energy sources, conducting various expeditions for new gas reserves and diversifying its gas imports from an expanded group of partners. Ultimately, these moves have key geopolitical implications for the surrounding region. To begin with, it will likely disrupt Ankara’s relationship with Moscow, as the decrease in Turkey’s imports of Russian gas could have economic and political consequences.
These developments also open up opportunities for engagement with other energy-producing countries, such as the littoral Caspian states and those in the Eastern Mediterranean. For example, Turkish efforts in seeking gas from the Caspian Sea involves deepened engagement with countries such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (Aze.media, December 22, 2022). This will likely foster closer political and economic ties between Turkey and these countries.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey’s exploration and extraction of gas reserves have already sparked tensions and territorial disputes among countries in the region. In truth, these efforts may serve to exacerbate existing geopolitical conflicts and heighten tensions with countries such as Greece and Cyprus (Al Jazeera, August 9, 2022). It could also lead to further competition and negotiations among regional actors for control over gas resources.
Meanwhile, in hopes of maintaining its influence over Turkey’s energy sector, Russia could move to offer more competitive pricing, more favorable contracts, added incentives and increased investments—all the while exerting diplomatic pressure and providing geopolitical and economic incentives to discourage Ankara from diversifying its imports.
Nevertheless, as Turkey and Russia share a wide range of geopolitical relations, Ankara will not entirely reduce its imports of Russian gas. Overall, Turkey’s pursuit of energy supplies from alternative sources has the potential to affect geopolitical relationships within the region, including improving relations with the Central Asian countries and Iraq while potentially exacerbating simmering conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean. It may also introduce new challenges and tensions in the geopolitical landscape, especially in regions where territorial disputes and competing interests are already at play.