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Pipeline problems .. Is the TurkStream project doomed to failure?

The “TurkStream” pipeline was launched with the aim of replacing the failed “South Stream” initiative, and now it appears that this project is also on the line, and it may face the same fate.

In a report published by the American National Interest, writer Mark Episkopos said that decades before the outbreak of the “European Square” protests in 2014, and the current escalation of tensions between Russia and the West, Russia was struggling to find a way to transport natural gas. To Europe cheaply and assured.

Russia has proposed the construction of “Nord Stream” and “South Stream” pipelines, with the first linking the city of Vyborg (far west of Russia) with the coastal city of Lubmen (northern Germany). While the second pipeline passes through the Black Sea to the Balkans, supplying gas to Italy and Austria.

The Nord Stream project received prompt approval and is expected to be expanded. But the South Stream project has entered a re-negotiation cycle that lasted from 2008 to 2013, and is facing constant delays.

In 2014, the Ukrainian revolution erupted, followed by Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and the strained relations between Moscow and Ukraine led to the Kremlin’s efforts to redouble efforts to find alternative ways to extend gas lines that previously crossed Ukraine.

The giant Russian energy company “Gazprom” saw that Turkey is the ideal candidate to replace Ukraine. But the European Parliament and the European Commission quickly tightened the screws on the South Stream project, amid deteriorating relations between Russia and the European Union.

As a result, Russia withdrew the project in December 2014, after a campaign of pressure by the European Union against South Stream’s European partners. During his visit to Turkey, Russian President Vladimir Putin talked about the obstacles that prevent the realization of the project, most notably the unwillingness of Europe to do so, indicating that the demise of South Stream will push Russia to re-focus pipelines in other regions of the world.

Russia replaced the South Stream project with TurkStream to compensate for its losses by stabilizing its steps in the Turkish energy market, and Russia has thus sought to achieve a secondary goal of diverting Russian gas exports to southeastern Europe away from roads connected to Ukraine.

Russia has adopted a clear strategic logic in diverting natural gas flows away from Ukraine at a time of unprecedented hostilities between the two countries.

This project would achieve many economic benefits, as laying a pipeline linking Russia with the Balkans directly via Turkey would reduce transit fees, not only to Ukraine, but also to Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria.

The pipeline for Moscow is a vital way to transport its gas to European markets (Reuters)

Project hurdles

The writer referred to the obstacles that the TurkStream project faced since its inception in late 2015, as negotiations were frozen in November 2015 after the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 was shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border. After a long series of negotiations to resolve the crisis between Ankara and Moscow, work on the TurkStream project resumed in the summer of 2016.

The pipeline laying works were completely completed in 2019, and it was inaugurated the following year, and Moscow considered this achievement a victory for the Russian economic strategy; But after one year, the relative success of the project is in question, and Serbia has not yet completed its planned part of Leaving Stream, and according to the latest estimates, this will not happen until mid-2021.

Strategic goals

One of the main strategic objectives that was to be achieved by the TurkStream project was to separate Ukraine from Russian natural gas exports destined for southeastern Europe; But a new study by the Russian Natural Monopolies Research Institute (IPEM) proves that this is impossible given current levels of demand from Europe until late 2035, when it is expected that up to 41 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas must pass through Ukraine.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that the project is facing inevitable economic failure. According to experts, it will take about 47 years for the pipeline to become profitable.

And the writer pointed out that the performance of the pipeline is relatively poor due to the different priorities of its operators. For Moscow, the pipeline is a vital means of transporting its gas to European markets, while Ankara sees TurkStream as just another opportunity to fill its pockets.

Over the past years, the transit of Russian natural gas through Turkey to Azerbaijan and Iran has decreased continuously, and the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has strengthened Turkish-Azerbaijani relations amid tense relations between Moscow and Ankara.

Given the recent Turkish foreign policy, Ankara is expected to expand its LNG imports from Qatar and Algeria, to distance itself from Russia. And outside Turkey’s borders, the TurkStream project is being undermined by the Southern Gas Corridor competing with the European Union; To expand the gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to southern Europe via Turkey.

In conclusion, the writer said that the TurkStream project is characterized by the flexibility of the Russian-Turkish relations themselves, and with the renewed competition between Moscow and Ankara, the future of Russian gas exports to southeastern Europe remains at stake.

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