Turkey-Russia Energy Relations

Date01 March 2012
Published date01 March 2012
| International Journal | Winter 2011-12 | 81 |
Şaban Kardaş
Turkey-Russia energy
The limits of forging cooperation through economic interdependence
As 2011 drew to an end, Turkey took major steps in the ongoing race
between rival pipeline projects that seek to supply natural gas to European
markets. It first signed a memorandum of understanding with Azerbaijan
for the construction of the Trans-Anatolia pipeline that will carry Azerbaijani
natural gas to Europe through its territory and means an additional line for
its imports from Azerbaijan. Though this unexpected development might
thwart specific pipeline projects such as Nabucco, supported by European
energy companies, overall, the joint Azerbaijani-Turkish project is likely
to contribute to the southern corridor promoted by the EU as a way to
bolster its energy security by building alternative natural gas pipelines from
the Caspian basin. Only a few days later, Turkey, in an unexpected move,
reached an agreement with Russia that will allow the construction of part of
Gazprom’s ambitious South Stream pipeline in Turkey’s territorial waters
in the Black Sea. South Stream aims to consolidate Gazprom’s dominant
position in the European markets and is seen as Gazprom’s most lethal
weapon to forestall competition from EU-backed projects—and is therefore
a rival.
Şaban Kardaş is assistant professor of international relations at TOBB University of
Economics and Technology, Ankara, Turkey.
| 82 | Winter 2011-12 | International Journal |
| Şaban Kardaş |
In the 1990s, in contrast, Turkey largely positioned itself against Russia,
when arguably the new great game over the development and transportation
of the Caspian basin and central Asian reserves was about to start. Having
coordinated its energy policies with the east-west corridor supported by the
western powers, Turkey took an active role in projects that aimed to bypass
Russian-controlled transportation lines and bolster the economic and
political independence of the new states in the region. The rivalry among
various oil-and-gas pipelines advocated by the United States and EU on the
one hand and Russia on the other continued throughout the last decade.
Turkey remained committed to projects backed by western powers but
increasingly developed a more cooperative relationship with Russia’s rival
projects; it also rendered itself dependent on Moscow for its soaring energy
The multifaceted energy relations between Turkey and Russia offer a
crucial case to study the changing priorities of Turkish foreign policy and
the limits of this transformation. Turkey has adopted cooperative policies
based on positive-sum logic and downplayed competitive negative-sum
calculations. With this new approach to international relations, Turkey
seeks to use interdependencies forged through economic exchanges as
a tool to dampen political disputes and induce positive transformation
in the behaviour of its partners. The transformation of Turkish-Russian
relations from adversity to managed competition and the current phase
of multidimensional partnership owes a great deal to the economic
interdependence imparted most crucially by energy cooperation. Turkey’s
pursuit of a more independent approach vis-à-vis the west and its forging of
closer economic and political relations with its northern neighbour Russia
are a testament to the success of its new foreign policy vision, which also
values cooperation with its immediate neighbours. As this article will argue,
Russia’s failure to deliver on Turkey’s expectations in both energy and
neighbourhood issues exposes the limitations of this new approach. The
return to competitive dynamics after the parties reached a historic grand
bargain in energy cooperation in 2009 clearly reveals the boundaries of
Turkey’s positive-sum approach to energy cooperation with Russia.
Energy relations between Russia and Turkey exhibit interesting patterns,
reflecting Turkey’s various roles in energy markets. In recent years, Turkey’s
energy policies have been based on two interrelated roles as a consumer

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