Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday told his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that Turkey has become the most reliable route for gas supplies to Europe and offered to create a European gas hub in Turkey, during a meeting on the sidelines of the sixth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA), in the Kazakh capital of Astana. Approaching the proposal cautiously in front of the cameras, Erdoğan suggested that they take a step forward on Turkey’s second nuclear power plant, the construction of which is planned for Sinop on the southern coast of the Black Sea.
Putin’s offer, which sounds like an alternative to the Nord Stream 2 project, did not come as a surprise to Erdoğan. Speaking at the Russia Energy Week conference in Moscow on Wednesday, Putin said Russia could redirect supplies intended for the damaged Nord Stream pipelines to the Black Sea to create a hub in Turkey, or even use the one intact part of Nord Stream 2 to supply the European Union.
At the meeting in Astana the Russian president said the proposed platform in Turkey would allow prices to be set without politics. “Today, these prices are sky-high. We could easily regulate them at a normal market level without any political considerations,” Putin added.
Speaking after Putin’s remarks, Erdoğan did not comment on the proposal in the open-to-the-press part of the meeting. The pro-government Turkish media was also wary of Putin’s offer. Media outlets using the common text circulated by the Turkish Presidential Office quoted Putin’s remarks while highlighting that Turkey is the most reliable route.
In a statement from the Kremlin, the two parties agreed to form expert delegations to discuss Putin’s proposal and that they would immediately kick off technical studies.
The main reason for the lack of excitement on the Turkish side is most probably the expected US reaction to a new gas route that could be an alternative to the Nord Stream pipelines.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, US President Joe Biden directed his administration to impose sanctions on the main company involved in the project, Nord Stream 2 AG, and its corporate officers.
The US, which is extremely unhappy with the fact that Europe, especially Germany, is dependent on Russian gas, asked the EU to find alternative markets. Europe, which normally procures 40 percent of its gas from Russia, reduced the figure to 20 percent after the wave of sanctions imposed on Russia.
EU officials, who are in talks with Qatar and Azerbaijan, also believe that oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean could be an alternative to Russian imports. Having problems with the EU in the eastern Mediterranean due to tensions with Greece, Turkey shifted its drill ships from contested regions to its waters for a cooling-off period.
NATO member Turkey previously announced that it would not participate in the sanctions imposed on Moscow by the United States and European Union due to its dependence on Russia for natural gas and also because it’s a favorite destination of millions of Russian tourists.
However, Turkey’s three state banks suspended use of the Russian Mir payment system last month over US warnings of sanctions.
Erdoğan surely knows that his close relationship with Russia has limits. Any new trouble that Turkey experiences in relations with the EU and the US, the biggest trading partners of Turkey, whose economy is currently in chaos, may cause a major crisis. For Erdoğan, who hopes to be re-elected in the elections scheduled for June 2023, a bankrupt economy could be a nightmare.
Meanwhile, during the meeting Erdoğan also stated that Russian grain and fertilizer can be delivered to third countries via Turkey and that they are open to all kinds of cooperation including exporting Russian grain to poor countries. Stating that this would disturb “some circles,” Erdoğan remained silent about which countries he was referring to. However, it is not difficult to understand that he meant the EU and the US.
Saying that the 2023 launch of the first reactor at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant built by Russia in the south of Turkey will make an impact on the world, Erdoğan said that if a step forward is taken in Sinop, where the second nuclear facility is planned, the effect will be even greater.
Prior to the meeting, the Turkish media claimed that Turkey would officially offer to mediate between Ukraine and Russia. However, according to Kremlin sources, it was not discussed during the bilateral talks.