SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – ANKARA- Amid tensions with the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that Moscow is spiking a multibillion dollar gas pipeline project for southern Europe and will focus instead on boosting its energy ties with Turkey. Moscow will increase gas supplies to Turkey across the existing pipeline and later could build a new link and possibly work with Turkey on creating a gas hub on the border with Greece, Putin said.
He argued that the EU’s opposition to the South Stream pipeline — which would have run under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and further on to southern Europe — meant Russia had no other choice but to scrap it. The announcement is part of the Kremlin’s efforts to forge new alliances as Russia-West relations have plummeted to post-Cold War lows over the Ukrainian crisis. It reflects the narrowing room for maneuver for Russia, which previously had competed with Turkey for the role of a key energy conduit to the lucrative European markets.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed ties with Russia, but was tight-lipped on the prospect of creating the energy hub proposed by Putin, signaling that tough bargaining lies ahead. Cold-shouldered by the European Union, Putin still wants to expand Russia’s gas exports to the EU markets bypassing Ukraine and is also keen to demonstrate that Moscow can find new partners despite Western efforts to isolate it. Erdogan, in turn, sees ties with Russia as an important tool to raise Turkey’s global leverage and boost its economy.
Reflecting a shared interest in expanding ties, both leaders sought to downplay the differences, such as their conflicting views on the Syrian crisis. “Turkey and Russia don’t share the same views on many issues, in particular on Syria … (but) Turkey will continue to purchase energy from Russia,” said Professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.
Putin’s move to try to build an energy alliance with Turkey reflects Moscow’s precarious position regarding the South Stream. Russia’s state-controlled natural gas giant, Gazprom, already has invested nearly $5 billion in building the pipeline on Russian territory, about half of its projected cost.
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said that his company signed a memorandum on building a new Turkey-bound pipeline under the Black Sea, which would be capable of pumping about 63 billion cubic meters to Turkey, the same capacity as the South Stream. Putin added a sweetener, saying that Russia will offer a 6 percent price discount for its gas supplies to Turkey starting next year and could offer an even better deal if the two countries reach an agreement on deeper energy cooperation.
Russia remains Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s closest ally, while Turkey supports Syria’s opposition forces and wants to see Assad deposed. “We have to consider Assad as though he does not exist,” Erdogan said. “It is not possible to reach a solution with Assad.” Putin argued that the Syrian ruler still enjoys strong support from part of the population. He added, on a conciliatory note, that the sides agreed that the situation in Syria “is not normal” and that they did not want “chaos to reign” there.