Turkey’s ‘Grid’ to the rescue?

Turkish energy project could undermine Russia-Iran alliance

Jonathan Adiri, YNET NEWS


While the international community is busy observing Iran from the east, its western border is undergoing tremendous changes, mainly in the field of energy.

These changes might yield a substantive strategic change, which will provide effective leverages for the international community vis-a’-vis Iran. However, should the international community persist in its irresolute conduct, a Turkish turn eastward might negatively affect global security.

The Mild War

Putin has revealed his cards. While the global media was busy covering his assailant “Munich speech,” not many noticed that he outspokenly revealed the prevailing Russian narrative: The Soviet Union did not lose the Cold War, but voluntarily ended it.

This statement alludes to the spiritual substance from which Russian foreign policy is created in the 21st century – a great power that cleverly reframed its power structure and is reclaiming its adequate international position.

In this context, the renewed Russian national security policy is based on two main pillars diplomacy and energy. Its diplomatic power is comprised of a rich and interwoven set of strategic relationships across Asia and Africa. Furthermore, Russia enjoys the veto power at the Security Council. On the energy front, Russia employs three main sources of power – A dominant natural Gas reserve and active production line, access to oil, and nuclear expertise.

At present, 35 percent of the European Union’s natural gas comes from Russia. Germany, the leader of the EU economy, is heavily reliant on Russian gas, which accounts for 79 percent of its consumption. This enables Putin to leverage energy as a diplomatic tool, as he proved in the Ukrainian crisis on New Year’s Eve, 2006. This crisis, spurring a Moscow-Brussels diatribe, ended up in Russia’s victory and has been recurring since, the latest victim being Belarus.

The Russian diplomatic umbrella is at the heart of the secure Iranian path to nuclear glory. This umbrella is the direct consequence of an Iranian-Russian deal. Under this deal, Iran refrains from exporting the Islamic revolution to the Shiite and energy-rich Russian backyard, the Caucuses. The implications of a “Chechen scenario” evolving in this area deter Moscow, which, in turn, provides the diplomatic backing.

Other reflections of the deal include the heavy arms trade between Russia and Iran (lately the Russian defense minister estimated that Iran’s air defense systems, recently purchased from Russia, will cripple any American/Israeli attack), the Nuclear plant in Busher, and Iran’s role in mediating other predominantly Muslim areas in the Russia-China-Iran triangle.

Turkish energy bar

July 2006 saw the completion of first phase in the ambitious Turkish energy project, also known as “The Grid.” Once completed, claim DC researchers and policymakers, Turkey will have consolidated itself as an energy transfer hub. Strengthening this Turkish effort might weaken the Iranian-Russian stronghold of the Caucuses energy and create major reciprocal tensions in both countries national security goals – getting them to possibly re-think their “deal.”

The Baku Ceyhan Natural Gas pipeline holds great potential for unleashing the energy reserves of the Caucuses. The current Russian monopoly on the pipeline-transfer of natural gas (without going through the dangerous and expensive transformation process to liquid gas for transfer in tankers or aboard trucks) is already beginning to weaken at its fringes. Foreign direct investment in this project will transform these fringe cracks into a trend.

Moreover, the Russian iron fist in the Caucuses, a consequence (among other factors) of the region’s geographic dependency on Russia for Western access, might also weaken. Should Turkey keep up the pace and complete the Grid by 2010 it will be able to compete for the European demand for natural gas.

The Political package

However, foreign direct investment and clever western finance tools aren’t enough. Turkey has many open issues with the international community, which is reluctant and sluggish in its approach to Turkey. This brought about a stronger Islamic political hue in the Turkish political structure, which directly benefit Iran, wolfishly awaiting a Turkish turn east. This is evident in the high profile diplomacy exercised by Tehran and Ankara in the past year and a half.

Turkey has three major issues to resolve with the international community: Kurdish Separatism, EU integration, and recognition of its important regional status. The international community failed to engage Turkey on all three.

Former UN Secretary General Annan’s plan for Cyprus collapsed as the Greek part won all the diplomatic gains and the surprisingly pragmatic Turkish side was left behind bitter and frustrated. The US failed to explore the Turkish fears before entering Iraq, which resulted in an obstinate Turkish refusal to take part in the war. And finally, the integration talks are stuck and far from entering a serious and fruitful direction.

Turkey is approaching elections. Another win for the Islamists might further cripple the international community’s ability to engage Turkey.

The window of opportunity is closing and the price to pay for Turkey’s turn east is surging. Invested international parties, from the EU to the US and Israel (concerning Iran mainly) should provide the Turkish with a political-economic package that will boost the completion of the grid and dissuade it from turning east. The price for this return is just getting higher.

Jonathan Adiri is the Director of US Projects at the Reut Institute for Policy Planning

April 10, 2007 | Comments Off on Turkey’s ‘Grid’ to the rescue?

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