The meeting in St Petersburg between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, held on August 9, 2016, marked a first step in the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara. Russia’s sanctions against Turkey were established following the shooting down, last fall, of the Sukhoi Su-24, engaged in the bombing in the north of Syria. Dozens of Turkish businessmen had to cancel their business in Russia. Not only that: the Russian Agency for Consumer Protection organized the withdrawal of tons of products from Turkey considered at risk. It introduced strict controls over Turkish agricultural products. The restrictions also affected the projects for the Turkish Stream gas pipelines and for the nuclear power plant of Akkuiu. The Russian authorities had, on the other hand, shown themselves willing to proceed with the North Stream project (which should be operational at the beginning of 2019), despite the resistance of some European countries. However, a new course in the bilateral relations between the two countries could also mark an acceleration in the construction of the Turkish Stream project. This could lead to a reassessment, by Russia, of the projects underway for constructing the extension of the gas pipeline that supplies Northern Europe (North Stream).
The effects of the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara over the South Stream gas pipeline
By partnering with #Moscow on #gas, Erdogan is bypassing the isolation and moves forward on the #TurkishStream project @stradedellest
During the meeting in St Petersburg, Erdogan and Putin also discussed a possible thawing of projects for the construction of South Stream and Turkish Stream, following the crisis of last winter. After the Turkish President’s visit, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak announced the resumption of procedures for the construction of Turkish Stream. According to Russian analysts, a step in this direction would be beneficial for Russian energy giant Gazprom, although quite a few unknowns remain open as regards the political instability in Turkey. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed more cautious. The latter has not ruled out that Moscow may firstly take back the South Stream project, the gas pipeline that is expected to reach southern Europe, starting from Russian and crossing Bulgaria. It was the Bulgarian authorities that stopped the construction of the gas pipeline in December 2014, following the requests of the European Commission in relation to the restrictions imposed by the European Union’s Third Energy Package. With the interruption of the Bulgarian passage, the Russian President announced the construction of Turkish Stream to bypass the limits imposed by the EU. However, this second project was also frozen following the diplomatic crisis between the two countries last year. Therefore, due to the freezing of the gas pipeline projects in the Black Sea, Moscow had announced the extension towards the south of North Stream, the gas pipeline that transits via the Baltic Sea and supplies Northern Europe, with the aim of also avoiding Ukrainian territory, which is affected by the political crisis of 2014.
"With the rapprochement with Moscow, Erdogan is seeking to overcome his growing isolation and the hostility of the European Union and United States"
Ankara: Political instability and membership of the European Union
“With the rapprochement with Moscow, Erdogan is seeking to overcome his growing isolation and the hostility of the European Union and United States”, explained Professor Sami Zubaida of the University of London (Birkbeck). Ankara is going through a long phase of political instability. Following the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government has been engaged in a campaign that aims to identify militants, judges, journalists, police officers and teachers suspected of having participated in the coup or of supporting the Shaykh, in exile in the United States, Fetullah Gulen, who, according to Erdogan, was the instigator of the event.
The Turkish Parliament declared a state of emergency for three months following the failed coup. The government and President have gained special powers. In addition, the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights was arranged, while the debate is still open on the possible reintroduction of capital punishment. A decision to this effect would have negative effects on the process of Ankara’s membership to the European Union. The Turkish President has attempted to prove his public support that is still bestowed on him. In the demonstration of August 7, 2016, hundreds of thousands of people pledged their support of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Similarly, on the night when some soldiers attempted the coup, hundreds of people took to the streets against the return of the military. Along with the new wave of repression in domestic politics, Erdogan attempted a first step in the rapprochement with the Russian authorities. The Turkish President also agreed on temporary support of Moscow’s mission in Syria. In coordination with Washington and Moscow, it entered the north of Syria to limit the advance of the Islamic State jihadists (ISIS) and to contain Kurdish fighters of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In the long term, this repositioning of Ankara in foreign politics could accelerate the construction of Turkish Stream or allow for a rethink of the South Stream route. This could have positive effects which, on the one hand, could set aside Turkey’s growing isolation and, on the other hand, facilitate the financial interests of Russian company Gazprom.