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Russia: Moscow To Aid Ankara With Gas In Effort To Expand Relations

  • Michael Lelyveld

Russia has promised to help Turkey by increasing energy supplies as the country struggles with a winter fuel crisis. But Moscow is also seeking to expand its relations with Ankara on several levels, raising questions about how far the assistance and cooperation will go.

Boston, 30 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russia may increase both its trade and political influence with Turkey as a result of last week's agreements to boost energy supplies and meet Ankara's emergency needs for this winter.

In a series of steps during a three-day visit by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, both Russia's Gazprom and the EES electricity monopoly pledged to step up energy exports in the face of Turkey's winter shortage of power. The government has been trying to calm fears of a shortfall in electricity due to delayed power projects and a severe drought that has cut output at Turkey's hydroelectric plants.

On Friday, the Turkish Daily News reported that 40 percent of consumers in Ankara have already lost gas service due to low pressure and unseasonably cold temperatures. Last week, Gazprom agreed to raise its daily gas deliveries by 26 percent in November and December above the contracted amount, and by 15 percent in the first two months of next year. The increases will ensure Russia's place as Turkey's primary source of energy. Last year, Gazprom supplied nearly four-fifths of the country's gas.

EES also promised to boost electricity exports through Georgia to a level of 100 to 110 million kilowatt hours per month. Although details were sketchy, the amount appeared to be about 40 percent more than Turkey originally expected to get from the Georgia route.

In addition, Kasyanov and other officials announced that Russia has sped up its pipeline projects so that more Russian gas will reach Turkey ahead of schedule. Work to expand Turkey's existing connection through Bulgaria is now expected to be finished at the start of next year instead of by the end of 2002. Kasyanov also said the controversial Blue Stream project to pipe gas under the Black Sea could start deliveries in the fall of next year.

The list of increases made it sound as if Russia has succeeded in solving Turkey's energy problems. The reality may be something less than that.

In the case of the gas pipelines, Russia's work in Bulgaria may indeed be ahead of schedule. But Russia's pipeline also runs through Ukraine, which has a history of diverting gas. Moscow's agreement to charge Kyiv for any future diversions may allow the practice to continue, leaving the security of supplies on the route to Turkey in doubt.

Relief from the Blue Stream project also seems uncertain. The date cited by Kasyanov for the new pipeline appears to be no sooner than the target that was set three years ago. The deadline may also be difficult to meet. Industry officials say that work has yet to start on either of the project's two underwater lines. Each is more than 380 kilometers long. The pipes must be laid on an uneven seabed more than 2,000 meters deep, making it perhaps the most challenging pipeline project in the world.

Turkey's actual gains from the EES exports are also not entirely clear. Although EES Chairman Anatoly Chubais said the company would deliver up to 110 million kilowatt hours per month, earlier reports indicated that Georgia's lines can carry 100 million at best. Some of the Russian electricity may only replace supplies from Georgian power plants, which have already stopped their exports to Turkey.

While Gazprom has accelerated its delivery schedule, help may not come without a political price. Russia's SKRIN Issuer news service reported this week that Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev has delayed a guarantee for more gas next year because Turkey has blocked a contract with Gazprom for building a gas processing plant.

But while Russia's energy agreements may offer Turkey something less than a solution to its immediate problems, Moscow made clear that it wants to be something more to Ankara than an energy supplier.

Officials indicated during the Kasyanov visit, for example, that Russia wants to be considered for a $4.5 billion contract to sell Turkey attack helicopters through a joint venture with Israel, although negotiations are already under way with a U.S. firm. The two countries also agreed to study the possibility of joint weapons production, an unusual move for nations that have been seen as regional adversaries.

Kasyanov said an agreement had been reached with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit for cooperation on military and security issues, particularly with regard to terrorism. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to a common approach on Islamic insurgencies in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Perhaps at a minimum, it may mean that Turkey will abandon past plans for a rival role in regional security.

While Turkey sought concessions of its own to revive previous barter mechanisms for trade, the results were inconclusive. More notable was Russia's attempt to create a far broader relationship than when energy supply deals were negotiated with Turkey four years ago.

In the near term, the Kasyanov visit may help Moscow to keep its lead in Turkey's energy market when other countries including Iran and Azerbaijan start delivering gas in the next year. But Russia's broader influence may depend on how quickly it provides help in Turkey's season of need and how much it asks from Ankara in return.