24 January 2020

TurkStream strenghtens the Russian domination of energy supply to Europe

Sergiu Medar

The recent start of Turkstream pipeline which ensures, starting January 8th 2020, the natural gases supply to Center and South Europe will increase European Union’s states dependency to Russia, highlighting union’s states vulnerability to Moscow’s political decisions. Germany plans on becoming an energy hub for the entire Union, after the completion of NordStream 2, in 2021, whose supplier is also Russia.

Image source: Mediafax

For their own consumption, EU states need energy imported from states outside union’s space. In 2017, the most important imported energy products were the oil products, which summed up two thirds from all the imported energy. Additionally, there were also 26% gases and 8% coal.

In 2017, almost two thirds of the extra-union space oil was imported from Russia (30%), Norway (11%), Irak (8%), Kazakhstan (7%) and Saudi Arabia (7%). Three thirds of EU;s necessary natural gases come from Russia (40%), Norway (26%) and Algeria (11%). Three quarters of the imported coal from outside union’s apace come from Russia (39%), Columbia (17%) and US (17%).

The fact that the European Union imports energy from few countries, outside its territory, especially from Russia, creates major security vulnerability for the union. This tendency, instead of being acknowledged and reduced is, on the contrary, through the recent projects with Russia, contributing to a concerning increase of EU’s states’ dependency to Russia’s energy.

One state’s energy dependency level is, in terms of percentages, the net energy quantity imported from the necessary energy. In 2017, the time these statistics were made, the rate was 55%. It is different from state to state: more than 95% in Malta, Luxemburg and Cyprus and below 15% in Estonia and Denmark.

All these numbers, updated at the end of 2019, reveals EU’s dependency increase on EU’s energy imports, from states outside union’s space and particularly Russia and Norway. By developing new liquefied gases takeover stations, Qatar and US entered the top gases suppliers.

EU permanently claims that it is seeking the energy providers’ diversification for union’s space to try to reduce dependency on Moscow. However, due to its aggressive policy, Russia manages to build new pipelines ignoring the European legislation, as well as the sanctions imposed by US. By doing so, it reaches both its economic and political purposes. The new TurkStream pipeline, which was set off on January 8th 2020, as well as NordStream2 that will be put in operation, following Vladimir Putin’s statements, in 2021, is strengthening Germany and Europe’s entire dependency on Russian gases.

TurkStream was put in operation in the presence of presidents of Russia and Turkey. The completion of this project brings a glimmer of hope for the relations between the two states and emerges when Moscow and Ankara have opposite stances when it came to supporting opposing forces in both Syria and Libya.

The new pipeline will replace the SouthStream project along the same route. Starting from Russi, the Anapa compressor station (Russia - Krasnodar region), it will cross the Black Sea to Kikoy, northwest of Istanbul, on a submersible route.

The pipeline, double during its submarine, has a 230 km length below Russia's economic exclusivity waters and 700 km below Turkey. One of them will be connected with Turkey’s current national network at Luleburgaz, while the second will be directed to the Turkish-European border and will be connected to the Trans-Balkan pipeline. The submersible pipes that will cross Black Sea are produced in Germany, Russia and Japan. Each Southeastern or Central European country crossed by land will be responsible for the national pipeline route.

The new pipeline has a capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters per year.

Initially, Russia planned to build South Stream. To that end, it built several internal pipelines that carried the gas from exploitation to the compressor station of South Stream pipeline. However, falling behind the gigantic project, Russia found itself facing two options: either give up all the investment or design a new pipeline. This was the case of TurkStream, which allows the transport of 50% gas amount that would have been transported through South Stream.

TurkStream and both Nord Stream 1 and 2 were built starting from political and economic reasons. The political goal was to pressure Ukraine and “punish” it for its participation to the Southeast conflict of this country. Following EU states pressures and particularly Germany’s, Moscow realized its interests were in danger, therefore it signed, at the end of 2019, a 5-year gases transfer and supply contract, with Kyiv eliminating Ukraine’s concerns, as well as of the states supporting it, in terms of the Russian energy supply to it. The second purpose was to push the European states, through Germany, to be dependent on Russia, both from an energetic and political point of view.

This new pipeline will affect the consumers and the transport benefit for transited states, both positively and negatively. For states far greater than the old options that transit Ukraine the energy price will increase. Ukraine, Moldova and Romania will lose their taxes from gas transit, while Turkey will gain both from the great transit distance and from having consumers much closer to sources.

This project will cause some states to win and others to lose. By being part of pipeline’s construction Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia will win and Poland, the Baltic States, Slovakia and, to a certain extent, Romania will lose.

In 2019, Gazprom, a giant with majority state capital, was providing through its pipelines: Nord Stream 1, a pipeline that crosses Ukraine as well as a third that crosses Belarus, 40% of the European natural gas requirement.

Currently, Germany is switching from nuclear and coal-based energy, insecure or polluting sources, to less polluting natural gas-based energy. Also, Germany is pursuing projects with Russia to become a natural gas hub for the entire Europe. This is happening while the North Sea gas production is going down: the Groningen (Netherlands) station will be closed by 2022, Norway's supplies have been capped, while those in UK, Denmark, Germany are going down. Imports of liquefied gas from Qatar have also declined due to region’s security situation and the conflicting relations here in Saudi Arabia.

TurkStream aims, first of all, to provide gases to South and Center of Europe. Entering EU’s territory, the project must follow the European regulations in terms of anti-monopole policies, just like NordStream 2. One of these regulations claims that the company constructing the pipeline cannot be the energy provider as well. Therefore, Gazprom cannot be the unique constructor as it is the unique natural gases provider. This is also the reason why there are many Balkan states participating at TurkStream’s construction.

For the question: what would happen if Russia would stop the gases supply to Europe, the Russian experts are arguing that it could be Moscow’s suicidal move, whose gases export to Europe is 15% of the total amount of Russia’s export.

TurkStream project was cancelled when Turkey took down the Russian fight aircraft, back in November 2015. In the summer of 2016, Moscow and Ankara reinitiated the diplomatic relations and signed the agreement on pipeline’s construction. Pipeline’s construction started in May 2017 and it was completed in January 2020.

Crossed by pipelines coming from Middle East to Europe, as well as by TurkStream, Turkey tries to become an energy hub for these areas, something that would help it a lot in the political and security relations with EU and the Arab world. Turkey does not have any kind of energy resources. Providing energy’s transport from Russia as well as the one from the Arab states, Turkey can ensure its necessary energy. However, at the same time, it can take advantage on the fact that these areas, which are the main global oil and gases resources depend on energy exports, increasing their interdependency on Turkey. Also, Moscow tries to use the relations with Ankara to reach its political purposes in Libya, Syria and Iran.

The massive gas supply to Europe and the fact that instead of diversifying its supply sources, it increases the power of a unique energy supplier is seen as one of Putin’s weapon that’s stronger than propaganda, disinformation and Russia’s interference in other states’ elections. With every cubic meter that’s pumped to Europe, the latter becomes even more vulnerable against Russia, which is clever enough in front of a Europe that’s seeking profit and it is still naive when it comes to Russia’s threat.

Translated by Andreea Soare