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Energy as a linchpin of Current Russian-Turkish Relations

Throughout the historical course, the relations between Russia and Turkey have waxed and waned due to a different kind of situations.

However, in the first decade of the XXI century, Russian-Turkish relations have taken the normalizations process committing to be defined as a multidimensional partnership. In general, this research mainly concerns on the increasing relations between Russia and Turkey mainly in an energy sphere. Therefore, energy is considered as a crucial point of Russian-Turkish relations within a political arena.

Currently, it is undeniable fact that Turkish perception and foreign policy en route for Russia changed in a more collaborative way concerning its increasing energy interests and purposes in the region. At the same time, Russia has huge eagerness to make close relations with Turkey for coming decades due to different kind of the pipeline projects and proposed nuclear plants. So that, both parties show their both political and economic interests over these energy projects.

For the future perspective, the Turkish natural gas appetite will increase significantly, and it will need to provide its natural gas demands in an effective way. In terms of energy relations, Turkish Stream is a good deal between Moscow and Ankara. However, Turkey also has to take a new energy policy to use its effective and generous geothermal energy resources at a domestic level. Before everything else, Turkey has to regulate its natural gas markets and adopt energy saving program based on energy efficiency rather than supplying its increasing gas demands in the near future.  In 2017, its growing gas needs are expected to increase up to 46.6 Bcm out of total 50 Bcm gas consumption.[1]

On the other hand, if Turkey decreases its natural gas consumption in future decades, what will be the benefits of Turkish Stream?- Turkish Stream will be the significant project between the EU, Russia, and Turkey. Turkey will be the third energy party to supply gas from Russian territory along with the Black Sea on to the European countries. In this context, however, the EU side wants Turkey to regulate its gas markets based on the EU prerequisites and eliminate the monopoly on gas prices while delivering to the EU. From Turkey’s perspective, it is not a difficult deal, whereas, it will take a bit time to regulate and adopt the energy frameworks and rules requested from Europe. Regarding the EU, it has to change its way of stances and perceptions toward Turkey and Russia and should have to more elaborate on engagement with both Russia and Turkey.

If the EU wants either Turkey or Russia to undertake responsibilities coming from the EU energy rules, in turn, the EU has to give a room (place) for both countries for the sake of effective energy partnership. In terms of Russia, in the future, Russia will not politicize the Turkish Stream that it has in Ukraine because Turkish is both Russian real counterpart as well as an economic partner in Eurasia and will not restrict the improving role of Turkey in Eurasia.[2]

Russia at least for its economic development and energy revenues will provide the EU with its gas in the future. For the present time, there is not a potential alternative for the EU to meet its increasing natural gas demands. It is fact that the Southern and Central European countries have over dependency on Russian gas from 60% to nearly 98%. Some of the European countries (Norway and etc.) produce energy resources for the EU countries, but it is not enough for Europe to meet its energy demands in coming years. When it comes to the revaluation of the EU stances, it should have to change its way of “non-engagement” with Russia.

At least, it comprehends well that currently, it has sell-purchase issues in the energy sphere. Hence, in terms of the dynamics of energy relations between Turkey and Russia, it can be said that the successful deal will be continued in the coming decades. Both of them need each other in tourism, trade, economy, and energy fields. In order to pave the way for the future collaboration between Turkey and Russia, they also evaluate the role of the EU and involve it in their projects. The involvement of the EU in Turkish Stream will gain benefits for all parties if they choose the policy of comprehensive energy diplomacy taking into consideration the interests of each party. Therefore, the energy relations between Turkey and Russia in the foreseeable future are convincing. What will happen in the near future depends mainly on the progress of the relations with its European partners?

When it is needed to take a general view of Russian-Turkish relations, it is clear that their relationship was established on behalf of reaching their specific interests and purposes. Certainly, the relations between them can be considered both convincing and stable, because of the fact that the relationship between states based on ensuring of any kind of interests is more influential than other simple relations without any purposes.

In Russian-Turkish energy relations, it is important to mention a key factor called “appropriate balancing” emphasized by Gideon Rose.  The appropriate balancing as a key element of neo-classical realism can be applied better in Russian-Turkish energy relations. “Appropriate balancing” arises when a state correctly comprehends another state’s intentions, interests and balances properly. If the appropriate balancing would be applied in the Russian-Turkish energy relations, it can be said that both of them are aware of their purposes and interests toward each other. This relationship is a kind of preserving the balance of power, ensuring their internal and external security in the region. So that, their relationship can be called purposeful or intentional relations (In Turkish language, it called çıkarlı ilişkiler or çıkarlar) which envisage the serving of both sides’specific purposes and interests. As Russian President Vladimir Putin stated: “States do not have constant friendship relations; states have constant interests and ambitions.” Over the historical period, their relations have had a competitive character more than cooperation in the region. However, on behalf of ensuring their interests (Turkish growing demands for gas resources, ambition of being an energy hub and energy transit country between East and West, and Russian ambition of taking huge dominance over Eurasian and European regional energy bazaar) domestic incentives and other external factors, the current situation forces them to take a constructive approach in their relations compared to the previous relations that they had.

At least, if the pragmatic side of relations between Russia and Turkey is taken into consideration, in this case, the development of their relations both in energy and other fields is unavoidable. One of the most important strengths of neo-classical realism is its attention to systemic and unit factors as well as historical clarification simultaneously. This kind of strength makes the theory more relevant and applicable to the chosen research than any other version of realism theory. In neo-classical realist theory, there are interconnected relations with enticements, motives, perceptions, the foreign policy of states which make states to attempt for maximizing their domestic security issue. (Turkey is eager to maximize its energy security in the region within a domestic policy through collaborating with Russia in the energy field, in turn, Russian interest of maximizing its security issue in the example of diversification of its transit routes bypassing Ukraine) Thus, by taking into consideration specific interests, purposes and security issues (mainly, domestic security which related to the energy security), it is apparent that Russia and Turkey could be strategic, an economic and particularly, energy partner more than so-called “a friendly colleague” within an international system.

[1] E. Tulcalp., Turkey’s Natural Gas Strategy:Balancing Geopolitical Goals and Market Realities, Turkish Policy Quarterly, 13 December, 2015, Available at: http://turkishpolicy.com/article/774/turkeys-natural-gas-strategy-balancing-geopolitical-goals-market-realities

[2] F. Koch, Turkish Stream and its implications for the EU, European Policy Center, March 2015, pp.1-9, Available at: http://www.egmontinstitute.be/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/EPB341.pdf

Nargiz Hajiyeva -Independent Researcher and Policy Analyst