Russian energy giant Gazprom issued a brief statement on June 29 which actually touches on many political problems in the greater geography surrounding Turkey. It said that the company is ready to send more gas to Turkey if necessary, but from 2018 on Turkey could ask help from Azerbaijan as well.
Reuters got it right when it called the statement a threat; a threat to both Turkey and Azerbaijan.
The date the Russian company named, 2018, is the planned completion date for the TANAP (Trans-Anatolian) pipeline, which will carry Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe, a $7 billion project which was signed on June 26 by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Azeri President İlham Aliyev.
The BP-led Shah Deniz Consortium, which will also carry Azerbaijani gas to European markets, announced on June 28 that what it called the “new version of Nabucco,” without naming TANAP, could work, if it is considered together with the Trans-Adriatic (TAP) pipeline project, since TANAP will make Azerbaijani gas available to potential customers via the Turkish-Bulgairan border.
That is a clear challenge to the crushing domination of Russian gas in the Eastern and Central European markets, which need it in order to sustain their growth.
The signing of the TANAP project opens new doors for energy projects in the region. One of these might involve the rich oil fields in the area governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG): They could well be connected to TANAP, carrying Iraqi-Kurdish gas to European markets that way rather than via the Persian Gulf route, and making the route shorter and safer. But that also connects the problem with Turkey’s Kurdish problem. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been waging a war for the last 30 years, which has claimed more than 40 thousand lives so far, and that doesn’t signal a peaceful investment environment to the outside world.
In this region the strategists remember what happened back in 1993. A ceasefire deal between the Turkish government and the PKK made by the Iraqi Kurdish leader (now Iraqi President Jalal Talabani) was destroyed by killing of 33 unarmed soldiers on their way back home. Following the end of the hopes for peace in Turkey, in a few weeks time there was a coup in Azerbaijan and the protocol to be signed for the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline was canceled. That was planned to be the first pipeline to carry energy resources from a former Soviet republic to world markets without being under Russian control. It wasn’t signed until 1999, after Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, was sentenced to life in prison after being arrested in a joint Turkish-U.S. intelligence operation as he left the Greek Embassy in Kenya where he was hiding after his extradition from Syria, as a result of Turkey’s threats.
A civil war in Iraq is still a possibility, but it is a reality in Syria, the only ally Russia (which also provides a major military base for it) has in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Turkey and Syria are in an escalating crisis, since Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane on June 22.
It is a hot summer indeed, and the Gazprom statement is like a cherry on top of the cake, promising new areas of tension in the coming weeks. Yes, the Geneva talks might mark a turning point for the tension in Syria, but can you believe all of this is happening independently of the global energy wars?