Editor’s Note: View from Turkey
MEHMET ÇAĞATAY GÜLER
On Jan. 2, 2020, an agreement was signed between Israel, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration over the Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline project. EastMed is a long natural gas pipeline project which connects the Levantine natural gas basin of Israel to Italy through Greece. It consists of two parts, 1,300 kilometers offshore and 600 kilometers onshore. Besides the high expenditures and economic circumstances, the latest agreement between Turkey and Libya on their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that limits maritime jurisdictions makes the project unfeasible.
Nevertheless, Israel is amply eager to complete the project. If completed, it will change the current shape of the European natural gas market and the conditions of supply security. The project aims to transfer Israeli gas to the European continent.
EastMed will bring diversity to the routes and sources for European countries. In other words, it will serve as an energy supply security mechanism that balances other countries’ influence gain through energy resources.
In brief, the European countries’ dependence on Russian gas will decrease, which has been the case for a long time. In this context, it seems surprising that Russia does not take a stand against the project. Why doesn’t it? What stands in the Kremlin’s way?
First, Russia cannot take the risk of losing multiple allies in return for its official stance against EastMed. This project has been supported by countries such as Israel, Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot administration, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Moscow maintains a high strategic dialogue and economic partnership with these countries. The mutual trade volume between Russian and these countries has reached $20 billion.
Furthermore, Russian companies have been heavily investing in some of these countries such as the Greek Cypriot administration. Moreover, Moscow aims to increase its arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As a natural result of the realist policies being pursued, while taking a foreign policy step, the Kremlin weighs the pros and cons in a very consistent way. Indeed, for Moscow, the loss of economic and political power over Europe that could arise after the successful completion of the project far exceeds the pros that could be gained by opposing the project.
Moreover, Russia has already secured a very strong position with its current pipelines and further projects may create more influence over Europe. Currently, Moscow has been supplying almost 40-45% of the EU’s total demand. Besides, the TurkStream project is almost complete, through which 15.75 billion m3 of natural gas will be exported to Europe in a year.
In addition, the North Stream 2 project has the capacity to transfer 55 billion of m3 natural gas per year. Together with North Stream 2 and TurkStream, the EU natural gas import from Russia will be increased at least 17%.
On the other hand, the EastMed project will have a capacity of only 10 billion m3 which might be increased at most to 20 billion m3. Regardless of the short or long run, the project will only cause a maximum 5% change in the EU’s dependence on Russia, considering the current natural gas supply and demand numbers. Hence, for Moscow’s current strength and increasing influence over the EU natural gas sector, the consequences of the EastMed project seem negligible.
In spite of this, in the current phase of the project, it does not look feasible since Turkey’s latest agreement on the maritime jurisdiction with Libya precludes the EastMed route. The agreement is in line with international law considering the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Since it has legal grounds and the U.N. has been notified of the aftermath, from now on any action taken against the agreement violates international law and the rights of the signature states. Thus, the future of the project remains unclear.
The Kremlin approaches this situation by asking why it would risk taking a stand against the project at its onset as it is not certain that it will be completed. Only in this context, Moscow can utilize it as leverage against Turkey. It might serve as a tool to undermine Ankara on several topics such as Syria.
There is also the possibility that it will be used as a tool against the EastMed-favoring states as they have much to lose and do not have any alternatives.
Overall, from the very beginning, the EastMed project does not seem feasible mainly because of Turkey’s latest action. In this vein, it does not make sense for the Kremlin to act against the project as it is not certain at all. Secondly, by not taking sides, Moscow keeps its hand strong over both sides, which could be used as leverage in time.
Lastly but most importantly, policymakers in the Kremlin are aware of the fact that Russia has much to lose compared to the 5% of EU’s dependency and the market share decreasing from the long-term, uncertain project. At the end of the day, Russia keeps its political and economic influence over the EU and maintains its close dialogue with its other significant partners. By taking all of these factors into account, there seems to be no reason for Russia to oppose the project besides the probability of a slight decrease in its natural gas export toward Europe.