Putin in Syria: Moscow Suspends TurkStream Project

December 3, 2015
Photo by Umit Bektas/Reuters

The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

Moscow Suspends TurkStream Project, Now One of Three Troubled Russian Gas Pipeline Projects

In the wake of Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter plane that, NATO says, strayed into its air space, Moscow is continuing to take retaliations. The most serious was announced last night, confirming a rumor we reported last week: Russia has halted the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project which was supposed to be Moscow’s way of bypassing Ukraine to get gas to Europe.
According to Russia Today, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak has made a formal announcement: “The negotiations on Turkish Stream have been suspended.” 
A source at Gazprom, the state monopolist that would have pursued TurkStream, told Reuters that there is hope the project is only delayed “a few years,” not cancelled.
It’s important to look at this development not only in terms of the immediate issue of the war in Syria and the downed plane, but the wider problem of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other cancelled or troubled pipeline projects.
The Ukrainian media may have overstated the suspension of TurkStream as a “cancellation” — but points to the important precedent of the scuttling of South Stream after the invasion of Ukraine.
And the problems with Nord Stream have also been indicated:
Even before the downing of the plane, the TurkStream project was not free of difficulties, as Greece demanded to be paid for gas transit, a point resisted by other project participants, and Turkey’s state-owned gas importer Botas was in fact appealed to arbitration court against Gazprom over a gas price discount dispute.
As Richard Kauzlarich, former US ambassador to Azerbaijan points out, these series of problems, suspensions and outright cancellations do create a credibility problem for Russia:
Turkey depends on imports for nearly all its energy needs and Russia is its largest gas supplier; Russia also sells gas that transits Turkey to other countries via the Blue Stream and West pipelines and this arrangement has not been affected by the boycott.
The European Union as a whole depends on Russia for nearly a third of its gas, with some countries more dependent than others — a necessity which has always stayed European leaders’ hands in attempting to resist Russian aggression.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick