Since early this summer, many observers have been sounding the alarm over Turkish President Erdogan’s increasing tendencies toward tyranny and his efforts to ingratiate himself with other tyrants around the globe. This has primarily involved becoming buddies with Vladimir Putin, but associations with North Korea and Iran have also been in the works. But now the relations between Turkey and Russia have moved past the cordial lunch date phase and gotten into the heavy petting level of energy and trade agreements.
There was an international energy conference held in Istanbul yesterday which would otherwise have been a fairly dry, technical affair, were it not for the in-person appearances of both Putin and Erdogan. As the New York Times initially reported, the two leaders were seen sitting together and sharing some laughs in a very friendly manner. After that, they got down to business, discussing a long stalled natural gas pipeline project which would link Russia’s rich gas fields to markets in the south.
Amid increasingly tense relations with the United States over Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia took advantage of a routine meeting in Istanbul on Monday to advance the Kremlin’s reconciliation with Turkey, including an agreement to revive a suspended natural-gas pipeline project…
The two have sought to use their warming relationship both at home and abroad to indicate that they are not politically isolated and remain central players in any Syria solution. They sat next to each other in the front row of the World Energy Congress in Istanbul, laughing together, and later met for bilateral talks.
Local media is reporting that the talks were more than preliminary in nature. After the general conference assembly, the two leaders moved on to a private meeting where they not only hashed out their differences but signed an initial agreement to get the pipeline project back in gear.
After holding lengthy bilateral talks, the two leaders signed an agreement on the ‘Turkish Stream’ pipeline project, to step up preparations for the start of construction. The construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant was also discussed during the meeting.
Putin said following the signing ceremony that the agreement also envisions gas price discount for Turkey.
According to Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, the annual capacity of each leg is estimated at 15 billion and 750 million cubic meters of natural gas.
This isn’t good news for anyone keeping an eye on this budding relationship and it demonstrates that there’s more of a danger here than simple alliances or a war of words. One of the most beneficial aspects of the emergence of the United States as a global energy leader was our ability to deliver energy to Europe, removing much of Russia’s leverage as the primary supplier of oil and natural gas to the region. While Turkey is supposed to be one of our allies and a supporter of the EU, this agreement does much to undermine this progress. With this pipeline, Russia will not only have access to more markets which we could otherwise be exploiting, but flexibility in cutting off supplies to places like Ukraine without shutting down their remaining customers in eastern Europe. It also won’t hurt Turkey since they’ll reap some cash benefits from the deal as well.
As I’ve said here repeatedly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is rapidly growing into a dictator before our very eyes, but his geographic location, military resources and key role in dealing with Syria and Iraq makes him too valuable for everyone to simply dismiss or isolate. He’s taking full advantage of this while crushing democracy and freedom in his own country and forging ties with precisely the people we’re trying to contain. And still we don’t hear a peep out of the White House or the State Department about it beyond some very mild lip service. We’re going to pay a price for this somewhere down the line. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be a catastrophic one.