Progress for the Turkish Stream project

Progress for the Turkish Stream project

Giuseppe Acconcia | Journalist focusing on the Middle East
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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on a mission to improve bilateral ties with Russia and the European Union. Erdogan has also reached agreement with Russia to temporarily support Moscow's mission in Syria in exchange for a Russian "laissez-faire" policy with respect to the Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria. This repositioning of Ankara's foreign policy is speeding up construction of the Turkish Stream pipeline, which is expected to be completed by March

The recent official foreign visits by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including that carried out in Italy and connoted, as declared by the Italian authorities themselves, by a "frank and respectful" dialogue, demonstrate the will of the Turkish leader to re-establish constructive diplomatic relations with the West. In recent months, Ankara and Moscow have signaled their intention to speed up construction of the South Stream and Turkish Stream projects. This, despite the Turkish army's launch of Operation Olive Branch on January 21, in a bid to contain the action of Kurdish fighters in Afrin, in northern Syria, where Moscow is engaged in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Turkish Stream will be completed in March

At the heart of Turkey's energy policy is Russia's project for the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, which was temporarily suspended after the downing of the Russian Sukhoi SU-24 in the winter of 2015 and then put back on the agenda after the meeting between Erdogan and Putin in St Petersburg on August 9, 2016. Gazprom completed construction of the seabed section of the Turkish Stream pipeline within Russian territory at the end of 2017. Gazprom has already laid down 448 kilometers of the pipeline's two lines. The first line, with a capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters is due to be completed by the end of March. Ankara is also on the route of the TAP project that will transport gas from Azerbaijan to Europe. Moscow is keen to move ahead with both the South Stream and Turkish Stream projects. Construction of the South Stream project was suspended by the Bulgarian authorities in 2014 in response to requests by the European Commission in connection with restrictions imposed by the European Union's Third Energy Package. With the interruption of the Bulgarian section, the Russian president announced the construction of the Turkish Stream in order to bypass European Union restrictions. This project, however, was also suspended following last year's diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Thus, due to the freeze on its gas pipeline projects across the Black Sea, Moscow announced the southward extension of the North Stream pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea and supplies gas to Northern Europe, thereby also avoiding Ukraine, which has been grappling with a political crisis since 2014. European entrepreneurs have continued to do big business deals with Turkey in recent years. Among the projects under discussion is the expansion of Istanbul's airport, which is expected to be completed in 2024 and to cater for 150 million passengers. The Turkish government aims to upgrade its entire transport system as well as the auto and healthcare industries. During his visit to Italy, Erdogan met with the representatives of several Italian companies, including Astaldi, Salini-Impregilo, Barilla, Ferrero, Leonardo, Pirelli, Maccaferri, Snam, Elt-Elettronica Group, Cementir and Fincantieri.

Turkey and the international community

Pope Francis and Erdogan share a common position in their criticism of U.S. president Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. Yet they are deeply divided over the Pope's recognition of the Armenian genocide announced in 2015. Erdogan remains key for safeguarding the European Union's interests in containing migrant flows to Europe. However, following the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, Ankara is going through an extended period of political instability that seems to have reduced the prospect of Turkey becoming a member of the European Union. Yet Turkey's military action in Kurdish-held Syrian territory has met with no opposition from the United States, despite the fact that America supported Kurdish fighters on the ground as part of the international coalition against ISIS. And neither has Russia done anything on this occasion to stop the Turkish army. Only Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his regional ally, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, together with the French government have expressed their opposition to Turkey's fresh military intervention in Syria.