Turkey Seeking Role in Europe’s Bid to End Russian Energy Dependency

With Russia curtailing natural gas supplies to Europe, the European Union is scrambling to find alternative sources. The EU is looking to gas providers like Azerbaijan to help fill the gap, but Turkey is positioning itself to play a pivotal role in keeping the lights on and furnaces working in Europe this winter.

The European Union has a mammoth task ahead to replace Russian gas. In 2021, Moscow provided about half of the continent’s gas supplies.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan is one country that can help make up the shortfall, as EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared in her July visit to the Azeri capital, Baku.

“The European Union has therefore decided to diversify away from Russia and to turn toward more reliable, trustworthy partners. And I am glad to count Azerbaijan among them. You are indeed a crucial energy partner for us, and you have always been reliable,” she said.

Baku has already increased its supply to Europe by about a third. The gas is delivered through the Tanap pipeline that crosses Turkey to Greece, linking up with Europe’s pipeline network.

As analyst Ilhan Uzgel of the news portal Kisa Dalga points out, that fact makes Turkey an important player in Europe’s energy future.

“All the pipelines are running through Turkey, and they are connecting to the European pipeline, it’s a transit country in this sense. They are coming up with many plans that Turkey could become an energy hub. For many years we’ve been hearing this rhetoric, but they are not realized,” said Uzgel.

An energy hub is a distribution center with storage facilities and the ability to become an energy exchange, reselling gas to different buyers.

The importance of Turkey as a transit is set to grow. Turkmenistan’s vast gas reserves also are a potentially significant supply of gas to Europe. That gas could be piped west through Azerbaijan and the Turkish Tanap pipeline.

Energy expert and former Turkish ambassador to Qatar Mithat Rende said Turkey is considering projects to enhance its pipeline capabilities.

“One of the projects could be to enhance the capacity of Tanap, the southern gas corridor, and it could take place in less than two years’ time. The second project could be to bring Iraqi gas from northern Iraq, and there you need to build about 200 kilometers of pipeline, so it’s not a big deal but then you need the support of the Federal government in Iraq,” said Mithat.

Europe is already rebuilding its gas pipeline infrastructure to accommodate supply change. Attending the opening ceremony of a pipeline between Greece and Bulgaria, von der Leyen underlined the importance of such projects.

“This pipeline is a game-changer. It’s a game-changer for Bulgaria and for Europe’s energy security. And it means freedom. It means freedom from dependency on Russian gas,” she said.

The Greek Bulgarian pipeline is being supplied by Azeri gas delivered via Turkey.

As Europe weans itself from dependency on Russian gas, it will increasingly, at least in the medium term, become reliant on Turkey as a transit country for its energy. Some observers warn that it could create its own challenges, given the EU’s recent strained ties with Ankara.