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Turkey as an energy hub?

Last week’s international energy summit in Sofia, Bulgaria refreshed hopes for the construction of Nabucco pipeline, which was turned into a long-winded story due to its political complexity and multibillion dollar cost.

The leaders from 28 European, Caspian and Central Asian countries as well as major gas producers took part at the meeting titled "Natural Gas for Europe, Security and Partnership" and tried hard to give momentum to the project, designed to carry Caspian gas to central Europe via Turkey. Besides so many other reasons of the delay of the realization of the Nabucco, this piece will examine the ones stemming from Turkey. The completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline opened a new chapter in Turkey’s vision for future role of being a regional energy hub. Exerting efforts to have all pipelines pass through its territory, making alliances with all source and consumer countries, using every opportunity to be at the center of energy set upÉ and doing all of them at the same time without making any rational planning were simply the elements of this policy.

Among many other shortcomings on the way to realize this end, Turkey failed in gaining the confidence of source countries (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan), consumer countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary) and the European Union. Considering that "energy security" is the key concept of future links and partnerships, the gravity of the wrong policies become more obvious.

On this policy’s negative results over relations with source countries, Turkey’s stance with regard to the Nabucco project and Azerbaijan is a good example. For some time, Turkey tried convince all related countries to start the Nabucco pipeline from Turkish territory, to make itself the main dealer of Azerbaijani gas. According to this original plan, Turkey would buy gas from Azerbaijan at a reasonable price and would sell it to rich European countries at a profitable price. Good planning, but obviously did not work! Turkey’s growing aggressive policy did also have impacts on European countries, the main consumers of the Caspian reserves. In a recent report prepared by an independent think tank, Council of Foreign Relations, or CFR, on Eurasian energy security, Turkey was depicted as "one of the main obstacles before the Nabucco."

"Turkey continues to block progress on negotiations for a common legal framework that would allow the pipeline to move forward. Meanwhile, many southeastern European states are wary of Ankara’s pivotal role. In essence, their complaints about Turkey echo those of Ukraine and Belarus about Russia: their larger neighbor has been willing to cut energy supplies to extract political concessions. Countries like Greece, Bulgaria, and Hungary fear increasing their reliance on Turkey and see South Stream, which would run beneath the Black Sea before coming ashore at Varna, Bulgaria, as a way of diversifying their gas supplies by reducing dependence on Ankara," it read.

Indeed, Turkish government did their best to scare all three of these EU members with its pivotal role, which sometimes went beyond its aims. It was only few months ago when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had threatened the EU of not allowing the passage of the Nabucco pipeline from the country’s soils if the union would not open the chapter on energy of the full membership negotiations. Though he backtracked, as usual, on his statement, Erdoğan did succeed in leaving a giant question mark in the minds of European countries over Turkey’s role in the energy supply.The only way for Turkey to rebuild its tarnished image is to take steps to win the trust of these countries. To do so, it should revise its entire energy policy. Otherwise, it will have to say farewell to its hopes for becoming an energy hub and will remain dependent to Russia forever.
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