The likelihood of Turkey becoming a Russian gas hub is slim

The likelihood of Turkey becoming a Russian gas hub is slim
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Last October, Putin had proposed making Turkey a Russian gas hub to counteract the European nations increasingly moving away from importing Russian gas. Energy analysts believe the suggestion to be unfeasible.

In her latest for DW, Seda Sezer Bilen analyzes the likelihood of that Turkey becomes a gas hub for Russian gas deliveries, a nebulous proposal made by Putin last October and which was welcomed by Erdogan. According to the Kremlin’s suggestion, Russian gas deliveries would be sent via pipelines to Turkey to be re-exported to Europe, despite the fact that European nations do not want to reinforce their reliance on Russian gas.

Russia had been the world’s largest gas exporter, at least until it invaded Ukraine last year. The move cost Putin dearly, as the country was severely sanctioned by the West and many European Union members began to seek alternatives to their reliance on Russian gas. Notably, Turkey has only partially complied with the sanctions and President Erdogan, who is up for reelection in May and must contend with the financial damage of the February earthquakes, still maintains a close personal relationship with Putin.

Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, says that “Putin is dangling for Turkey the 'carrot' of becoming a gas hub to bring Turkey closer to Moscow's orbit — similarly to what Putin had tried to do with Germany and Nord Stream.”

Grigas also expressed that, “Putin has traditionally used personal relationships, natural gas deals and arguably corruption to establish closer diplomatic relations with European and Eurasian countries, so Turkey is no exception.”

Bilen writes that such an increased dependency on Russia would be complicated in Turkey because fluctuations do occur in Erdogan and Putin’s relationship. Though the two enjoy good ties now, they have come head-to-head in conflicts in Libya and Syria.

This dependent relationship, if it comes to fruition, could also be upset by an opposition victory in the oncoming election. Since the ties are based on personal connections, if Erdogan is no longer in office, this could suffer.

Beyond matters of diplomacy are the “technical concerns” highlighted by Bilen. According to Anne-Sophie Corbeau, a research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy, “there is not enough pipeline capacity” to transfer Russian gas to Turkey only to re-export it to Europe.

Turkey currently has two pipelines that can be used for such a plan: TurkStream, which can carry up to 21.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year, and BlueStream, which can carry up to 16 bcm per year. However, analysts note that both pipelines are being heavily used for Turkey’s exports and other domestic needs. Extra pipelines, the construction of which would take years, would likely be needed to make Turkey a gas hub.

There are still other issues. Most importantly, Turkey currently relies on liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from the US, Egypt, Qatar, Nigeria, and Algeria as well as gas imports from Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Bilen writes that “LNG imports have reached 14.1 bcm, accounting for 24% of total imports.”

Corbeau says, “the only possibility that I could see is that Turkey imports more Russian pipeline gas [once the pipeline capacity has been built]. Therefore, it needs less LNG and this LNG is then free to supply other European markets,” at which point, European countries would no longer have a need for the gas Russia seeks to have re-exported through Turkey.

Acknowledging the difficulties to such a suggestion, yet expressing a willingness to move forward, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, “It is clear that this is quite complicated work, it is a rather complex project which, unfortunately, cannot be implemented without time shifts, without technical or other problems. Such situations are inevitable in relation to the Turkish hub. We will follow it, we will continue to work with our Turkish partners.”