The Successful Mediator: For These Reasons, Putin Is Bargaining With Europe and Rewarding Turkiye

Murad Jandali | 2 years ago




On October 14, 2022, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the Ministry of Energy to work on establishing a gas center in Turkiye, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed that Turkiye be a hub for gas transported to Europe amid its crisis with the West due to the Ukraine war.

According to observers, Turkiye will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the diversion of Russian gas supplies through the Black Sea, especially since it announced years ago its ambition to turn into a transit hub for energy supplies to Europe.

Turkiye is currently linked to Russia with the Turk Stream pipeline, an ambitious project for the gas-deficient country that gets most of its needs from Iran, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

Since the start of the Ukrainian war in late February, Turkiye has succeeded in establishing direct contacts between Russia and Ukraine, as well as a prisoner exchange agreement and a deal to transport grain from Ukrainian ports, a move that prompted Putin to say: "Countries that buy Ukrainian grain under the Istanbul agreement should be grateful to Erdogan."

On July 22, 2022, Istanbul witnessed the signing of the document of the initiative for the safe shipment of grain and foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports between Turkiye, Russia, Ukraine, and the United Nations to address the global food shortage crisis that threatens a humanitarian catastrophe.

The French newspaper Le Monde had seen in a report on August 4, 2022, that "the Istanbul agreement is a diplomatic success for Turkiye, as it enhances Erdogan's image on the international scene, restores Turkiye's geopolitical centrality, and enhances its position as a neutral mediator between Russia and the West."


Gas Hub

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that Moscow and Ankara have ordered their energy authorities to immediately begin technical studies on a Russian proposal that would turn Turkiye into a gas hub in Europe.

Erdogan's comments, reported by Anadolu Agency on October 14, 2022, come after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Turkiye has proven to be the most reliable way to supply gas to the European Union.

Putin had floated the idea of exporting more gas through the Turk Stream gas pipeline, which passes under the Black Sea to Turkiye after gas shipments to Germany were stopped via the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

Erdogan said that the Russian and Turkish energy authorities will work together to determine the best location for the gas distribution center, adding that Turkiye's Thrace region, which borders Greece and Bulgaria, looks like the best place.

In turn, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said, in statements he made to Anadolu Agency on October 14, 2022, that "63 billion cubic meters of Russian gas per year can be exported to Europe via Turkiye."

He explained that the capacity of the Turk Stream pipeline is 31.5 billion cubic meters, indicating that one of the project's lines is intended for export to other countries.

In turn, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed that the issue of supply and demand and the number of European countries ready to supply gas from the International Gas Center project must be studied, and work should be done to identify all dimensions for the success of this project, according to what Anadolu Agency reported on October 14, 2022.

He added that Turkiye had succeeded in the past in securing meetings between Russian and Ukrainian officials, citing the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in Antalya and the meetings of Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul during the past months.

Turkiye has long expressed its desire to become an energy hub, but energy analysts have questioned the feasibility of Putin's proposal because it is expected that the European bloc will not agree to open new Russian gas channel resources to Europe.

European leaders also criticized Russia's reliability as an energy supplier, describing Russia's cuts in natural gas supplies as a political attempt to divide them over their support for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the French presidency said on October 14, 2022, that "the Russian president's proposal to establish a gas center in Turkiye for export to Europe does not make sense because the Europeans want to reduce their dependence on Russian energy resources."


Turk Stream

In the same context, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, Kirill Semenov, wrote in an opinion article published by TRT Russian on October 13, 2022, that "one of the most important topics discussed by Erdogan and Putin in their meeting on the sidelines of the Astana summit was the problem of Russian gas supplies to Europe."

According to the Russian president, the Turk Stream pipeline is operating successfully, despite an earlier attempt to blow it up.

Putin stressed that if Turkiye was made the main line for transporting Russian gas to Europe, the level of security, according to the latest conditions, would be much higher, referring to the explosions in the Nord Stream pipeline, which led to massive gas leaks in the Baltic Sea.

It should be noted that the Turk Stream project was officially launched on January 7, 2020, and it is a pipeline dedicated to transporting natural gas from Russia to Europe via Turkiye, passing through the Black Sea to the Turkish mainland, to end at the Turkish-Greek border, where huge gas depots are located.

The pipeline, which cost about $12.9 billion to build, consists of two pipelines with a capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters of gas annually, each one feeding Turkiye and the second feeding eastern and southern European countries.

In turn, the Turkish President touched on the problem of resolving the conflict in Ukraine in his speech on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in the Kazakh capital Astana.

In presence of Vladimir Putin, he declared that a just peace in Ukraine can only be achieved through diplomacy.

According to Erdogan, there will be no winners in the war and no losers in a just world.

The President stressed that Ankara's role in this conflict is to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible.

Turkiye had proposed negotiations between Russia and the United States, Germany, France, and Britain.

On this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on October 11, 2022, by saying: "Moscow is open to talks with the West over the Ukraine war, but has yet to receive any serious negotiation proposal."

On the possibility of Turkiye hosting talks between Russia and the West, Lavrov said that Moscow would be ready to listen to any suggestions, but it could not say in advance whether this would lead to results.

Semenov added, "Turkiye, of all potential mediators, is the most important player on the world stage for mediating the Ukraine crisis. Not only is it able to provide a platform for communications, but it is also able to offer proposals that Moscow and Kyiv will accept, given the level of enduring relations between them and Ankara."

"At the same time, we should not forget that Turkiye is not only a strategic partner of both Russia and Ukraine, with which it has a common geopolitical space, but what is essential is its membership in NATO. This gives Ankara more weight and importance as a mediator, forcing Washington and Brussels to listen to its voice," according to Semenov's article.


Growing Partnership


On his part, Mr. Mahmoud Alloush, a researcher in international relations, indicated in a statement to Al-Estiklal that "the Russian proposal for Turkiye to become an outlet for Russian gas to Europe should be viewed from three main angles."

"First, given the dangerous escalation of the war in recent times and the looming nuclear dangers, Putin apparently wanted to send an important signal to the West that Russia was ready to work on a peace agreement that would end the war by offering a solution to address European fears of a worsening energy crisis. In other words, Putin is playing on a chord with the Europeans to entice them to open up to working with him," he said.

"Second, the war greatly worsened the energy trade between Russia and Europe. Therefore, the Russian offer appears to be a response to the shifts in energy trade with Europe and the search for a new form of it. It is no longer possible to return to the previous form that existed in any way," according to Mr. Alloush.

The political analyst added: "Third, the Russian offer appears in response to the growing partnership between Turkiye and Russia, which has grown remarkably after the war, reflects how Moscow is attaching greater importance to the partnership with Ankara and seeks to give it a major role in energy trade as a tribute to its balanced position in the conflict and its refusal to engage in Western efforts to isolate Russia economically."

Mr. Alloush also noted that "there are objective reasons that support the new Russian approach to energy trade with Europe, especially after the sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, and Germany's abandonment of the Nord Stream 2 project due to the shifts in the European position towards Russia and American pressures, in addition to the existing risks to Russian gas supplies that continue to reach Europe via Ukraine, Turk Stream pipelines have become more stable and are less vulnerable to Western influence on their operation."

As for the applicability of the Russian-Turkish plan regarding the supply of gas to Europe, the researcher stressed that "the project implementation period depends on several factors: the first of which is the volume of gas that will be exported through Turkiye, and the second is the European position on the Russian proposal."

He added that "the project may be implemented in two phases, the first is to double pumping gas through the Turk Stream pipeline, and the second is to develop the project if it succeeds in achieving its goals."

Mr. Alloush also noted that "the new shape that energy trade can take in the future will be part of an ultimately integrated peace process."

He explained, "After the role that Turkiye played in sponsoring the grain deal, it can now also contribute to solving the energy crisis that Europe is suffering from, but this matter depends on the European response to the Russian proposal."

Mr. Alloush concluded that "most of all, this initiative can indeed pave the way to a peace agreement, and perhaps this is the most important thing in this proposal. Therefore, it can be seen as an opportunity to strengthen Turkiye's balanced position between Moscow and the West."


Turkish Approach

As for the Western position on the growing Russian-Turkish relations, the Financial Times indicated in a report on August 7, 2022, that "the ongoing dialogue between the two leaders Erdogan and Putin is creating concerns in Europe and the United States, citing the concerns expressed by six Western officials about the Sochi summit last August."

On his part, an EU official said that Brussels is watching Turkish-Russian relations more closely than ever.

Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Erdogan has not fully aligned himself with the West, preferring to maintain an equal footing.

Despite Turkiye's condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Erdogan did not participate in the sanctions against Moscow and did not close his airspace.

In this regard, the Italian Inside Over website confirmed in a report on August 20, 2022, that "Turkish soft power is not insignificant, and it is successfully playing a complex role on the international scene, to the extent that it has become the only international authority mediating the conflict between Russia and Ukraine."

It believes that Ankara is currently playing a very complex game, and as a member of NATO, it knows that its movements are constrained by duties within the alliance.

"Turkiye managed to obtain independence in the movement that gives it almost the role of an external mediator while continuing its full integration into NATO mechanisms and providing Ukraine with drones," according to the website.

It concluded that Erdogan's goal is to be the only leader able to continue his diplomatic approach within Europe and NATO.

In this regard, it noted that Erdogan faces a very difficult challenge in the run-up to the race toward the presidential elections in 2023.

Therefore, by strengthening Turkiye's international standing, he hopes to offset the impact of the difficult economic situation in the country.

On the other hand, Putin shows willingness to bear many strategic decisions of the Turkish president because he knows that this cooperation is in the interest of his conflict with NATO and also increases the rifts on the western front.

It is noteworthy that on the sidelines of the meeting of the Turkish and Russian presidents at the Sochi summit on August 5, 2022, Putin confirmed that Russia exports oil, coal, and natural gas to Turkiye without any problems, and the volume of trade between the two countries increased by 57% during 2021.

He also revealed that the volume of trade between the two countries doubled in the first months of 2022, stressing that there are many strategic projects taking place in cooperation between his country and Turkiye.

Turkiye's exports to Russia amounted to $6.5 billion in 2021, while its imports from Moscow reached $29 billion as millions of Russians also spend their holidays in Turkiye and spend billions of dollars annually there.