Russian/Turkish gas pipeline inaugurated

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin today attended the opening ceremony of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline in Istanbul today alongside Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The pipeline has a total capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters, out of which the first line will carry 15.75 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to Turkish consumers. A second pipeline line will carry another 15.75 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe via Turkey.

The TurkStream pipeline project runs from the Russian coast near the southern town of Anapa, all the way to the Turkish northwestern town of Kiyikoy where it connects to other pipelines. Comprising two offshore parallel pipelines — one delivering gas to Turkey and the other to European markets — it is expected to convey 31.5 billion cubic meters of gas every year once in full operation.

The first onshore line that will connect with Turkey’s existing gas grid was constructed by BOTAS, while the second stretching to Turkey’s border with Bulgaria will be operated in a joint venture by BOTAS with Gazprom. The pipelines run over 930 kilometers with their construction begun in May 2017. On the Turkey border, Bulgaria has built an 11-kilometer pipeline to connect with the TurkStream project and, through which, gas will be delivered to Serbia, Hungary, Greece and other European countries.

Sofia announced earlier that it has been ready to start receiving natural gas from Russia through the TurkStream beginning on 1 January 2020. Bulgarian Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova said that natural gas prices in his nation will drop by 5% on an annual basis, as the Russian resource will no longer have to be transported at a far higher transit cost via Ukraine.

Security measures involving the deployment of some 7,200 police officers were ramped up in Istanbul to secure today’s inaugural ceremony. Putin and Erdogan also took the opportunity to discuss further bilateral cooperation and international affairs, including the situation in Syria and Libya.

Two seats of power have emerged in Libya since the toppling of late leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. One in based in the northeastern city of Tobruk; allied with the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar, and predominantly supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The other is the Tripoli-based Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), backed by the UN and most of the international community.

Turkey and Tripoli  signed two separate memorandums of understanding on security cooperation in November 2019, geared toward protecting Ankara’s interests in the war-torn North African nation as well as the Mediterranean at large. The first aspect of the pact centers on the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya for a one-year period, which was ratified this past Thursday (2 January 2020) by Istanbul’s parliament with 325 votes in favor and 184 against. The second part of the Turkish-GNA deal divided maritime zones in parts of the Sea between their two countries, in violation of the internationally-recognized sovereign and economic rights of Greece and Cyprus. By proxy, it also lays Turkish-claim to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) deal Jerusalem signed with Nicosia and Athens to transport natural gas from Israel’s vast offshore fields.

Libya’s east-based House of Representatives reacted to the GNA’s deal by voting on Saturday (January 4) voted to cut ties with Istanbul. The east-based army has been spearheading a military campaign in and around the capital Tripoli since early April, trying to take over the city and topple the UN-backed government. Thousands have been killed and injured in the fighting, and more than 120,000 people fled their homes from the violence.

Europe and the United States face being sidelined in Libya by Turkey and Russia, which are taking a bigger role in the conflict there. Libya has been in turmoil since veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi’s fall due to an uprising in 2011. Turkey supports the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), while Russia backs eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces hold much of the country’s east and south including its second city Benghazi. They are making a renewed attempt to take Tripoli.

News of the Turkish troop deployment came as the GNA announced the cancelation of a visit by high-level European Union diplomats slated for Monday (January 6) over safety concerns. Newly-appointed EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell had been scheduled to lead the delegation, which included his counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. In lieu of the visit, Borrel announced on Tuesday (January 7) that the group “agreed that the overriding urgency is to stop the fighting in and around Tripoli and ask for an immediate cessation of hostilities.”

The European Union’s top diplomat and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy went on condemn Turkey’s plans to send military experts and trainers to Libya, saying foreign interference there was exacerbating instability. “Any escalation and also any outside interference will only make the conflict more protracted, bring more misery to ordinary people in Libya, exacerbate divisions in the country and increase the risk of its partition, spread instability across the region and aggravate the threat of terrorism,” said Borrell, adding that “We have also called for a strict respect of the arms embargo declared by United Nations.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, “Libya has now for a while been the site of a proxy war. And we do not want to accept that any longer and it is for that reason that we began the Berlin process. For months we have been in talks with countries who have influence in Libya and we want to encourage them and take the responsibility to join the ceasefire and the weapons embargo. And to support the political process under the remit of the United Nations.”

Egypt has also condemned in the “strongest terms” the Turkish parliament’s decision to authorize the government to deploy troops to Libya. According to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Cairo, “Such interference will negatively affect stability in the Mediterranean, and Turkey will fully bear this responsibility.”  Moreover, Egypt will not recognize any “measures or legal consequences resulting from the agreements signed between Turkey,” and urged the international community to respond urgently to the move.

Saudi Arabia’s state SPA news agency has reported Riyadh’s rejection of the “the recent Turkish escalation in Libya,” including its mobilization of military forces to the North African country as a breach of UN Security Council decisions. “The Kingdom affirms that this Turkish escalation poses a threat to the security and stability in Libya and a threat to Arab and regional security, as it is an interference in the internal affairs of an Arab country in flagrant violation of international principles and covenants,” according to the report.

— By Erin Viner