By Andrei Fedyashin
Turkey experienced a flurry of diplomatic activity in mid-May, similar to periods of "heightened solar activity."
On May 12, President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Two days later, Erdogan paid an historic visit to Greece and on May 16th he dropped by Tehran where a nuclear deal was signed between Iran, Turkey and Brazil. From Tehran, he flew to Azerbaijan and then Georgia non-stop. It was curious how the issues discussed at one meeting merged with those on the agenda for the next: Iran's nuclear program, the Nagorny Karabakh conflict and the Caucasus conflict (discussed at the meeting with Medvedev), Black Sea pipelines and European energy issues.
It looks like Turkish leaders are deliberately travelling along the perimeter of the Anatolian Peninsular to make their concept of regional "geopolitical and energy pluralism" somehow more real. Their end goal could be described as making Turkey a "regional superpower," if such a paradoxical term existed. But who knows, maybe Turkey's efforts will eventually make it happen.
Turkey is looking to consolidate its role in the region connecting Europe and Asia, the Islamic and Christian worlds, the Caucasus and Russia. This region is set to become the world's largest oil and gas "transshipment" hub. It is a region where Moscow's interests clash with those of the West, and it is also a gateway to the Middle East. In this sense, Turkey's policies are broader than regional.
In any case, Turkey's efforts over the past week were to a large extent just for show. In particular, for Europe: more precisely, the European Union, to which Turkey was denied entry. It is not even entitled to associate membership until 2020. Therefore, it is calculatedly showing Europe exactly what it is losing out by not letting it, Turkey, their Eurasian neighbor, join the group, and in what direction that rejection is driving it.
Russia apparently plays a special role in Turkey's plan to improve its regional status. In fact, Turkey has to maneuver very delicately here, as it combines political cooperation with Moscow with an "easy" economic and energy competition. In fact, Turkey's "geopolitical pluralism" must include efforts to strengthen the status quo in the post-Soviet countries, in the South Caucasus in particular. To achieve this, logically, Turkey must try to draw Azerbaijan and Georgia as far away from their former colonial power (Russia) as possible. For that to be achieved, Russia needs to be isolated, for example by cutting off its oil and gas flows to Europe. But Turkey refrains from doing so.
Turkey is maneuvering very artfully between Russia and Europe. It agrees to transit Russian oil and gas to Europe, as well as Azeri (Turkmen and Iranian) oil and gas bypassing Russia. In addition to that, they must surely realize that the gas flow from Russia will always exceed that from Azerbaijan, but they need to prove their energy diversity to Europe. For example, Erdogan is going to sign a new agreement in Baku on gas supplies from the Shah Deniz 2 gas field in Azerbaijan. At present, Azerbaijan annually supplies Turkey with 6 billion cubic meters of gas from Shakh Deniz 1, which produces 9-10 billion cu m a year. Turkey wants to buy another 6-7 billion cu m from Shakh Deniz 2. The field is due to go on stream by 2014-2017 and is expected to produce up to 16 billion cu m a year. Some of this gas may be channeled into the planned Nabucco pipeline, which is to ship gas to Europe bypassing Russia. Turkey agreed to Nabucco crossing its territory since the role of a "gas dispatcher" for Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran should further boost its regional status.
To achieve this, Turkey is trying to remove political risks arising from the conflicts in the Caucasus. Erdogan brought the proposed Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact to Azerbaijan and Georgia. Turkey prepared the draft last year and is actively promoting it as a supplement to oil and gas contracts. Officials in Ankara have reason to believe that a real coordination of regional security policies in the Caucasus should be added to energy agreements, as this would move the region one step closer to a unified regional security system.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul described the key idea of the pact as follows: "The Caucasus is the key as far as energy resources and the safe transportation of energy from the east to the west is concerned. That transportation goes through Turkey. That is why we are very active in trying to achieve an atmosphere of dialogue, so there is the right climate to resolve the problems. Instability in the Caucasus would be like a wall between the East and West; if you have stability in the region, it could be a gate."