Why the Middle East energy market is so complicated

The Turkmenistan mosque

Energy strategist, Mohamad Kharkan, discusses the issues that effect the Middle East energy market. This is the third part of the energy series. One more article will follow.

As the war in Syria continues, the mainstream media, which has relentlessly suppressed the Syrian government, continues to forget the fundamental aspect of the war, the energy-related aspect, especially the issue of gas reserves. Instead, the media focuses on human rights issues.

The Syrian people lived a normal life, living on their own terms, from the time of Bashar al-Assad's father until the Arab Spring. This explains Russia's active support of the Syrian regime, but not of Bashar al-Assad himself. It sought to avoid the collapse of the Syrian regime. Russia and China, through Iran, supported and strengthened Bashar al-Assad's regime militarily, and the US-backed media also brought the people to rebel, resulting in the deaths of more than a million people in urban and rural areas.

It was during this period that Russia began to adjust to its situation so that it became the main barrier to energy transmission routes between Europe and Asia via the Balkans. It started with the Serbian war in 1999.

The US and the EU looked for for all possible ways to diversify to meet the needs of European countries that seek to reduce their dependence on Russian energy. This also happened at the beginning of the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which now has been completely abandoned. This scheme would have allowed the Europeans to meet their needs from the gas reserves of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The pipeline would have avoided Russia, passed through Turkey, and bypassed Greece.

The Nabucco project failed because Turkmenistan became an ally of China and the Republic of Azerbaijan became interested in Russia's South Stream project, which was first unveiled in 2007. This would allow Russia to control European energy supplies through the Caspian Sea and Kazakhstan (a member of the Customs Union), including Serbia, and was seen as an alternative to Nabucco. South Stream also envisions a network towards Greece that will promote the evolving state plan, and transform it into an orthodox energy bridge to Europe.

The US also had an ambitious political strategy. Turkey, as a US ally, would become the central axis of the Middle East of the future, while at the same time becoming the centre of the energy flowing between the Balkans and the Middle East. It was during this time that the Turkish President, Recep Tayipp Erdogan fell under the illusion that he could expand the Ottoman Empire.

Accordingly, the Americans wanted to allow Turkey to join the EU. By so doing, they could directly, and decisively, control Europe's energy supply, especially the continental alliance between Russia and Europe. They could block any movement of energy that is considered threatening to American interests. The Ukrainians have resolutely turned their backs on being involved in any project in the region. In this way, it no longer faces events such as those of 2006 when there was a political crisis.

Following the bankruptcy of Greece during the financial crisis, Russia sought to repurchase the Greek gas company through Gazprom. The talks came to a halt, with US intervention, because it warned Greece not to cooperate with Moscow on energy because the deal with Gazprom allowed Moscow to strengthen its position in the EU's energy market.

In Ankara, Turkey's capital, the situation is very vague. Ankara is heavily dependent on Russia for the Blue Stream pipeline project, in addition to agreeing to connect the two networks, South Stream and Blue Stream. 

The Blue Stream pipeline project is a major gas pipeline carrying natural gas from Russia to Turkey across land and the Black Sea (to diversify Russian gas routes). The pipeline is owned and operated by Blue Stream Pipeline BV, which is a Netherlands joint venture between Gazprom of Russia and Eni of Italy.

In addition, Turkey, as NATO's second largest power, signed a cooperation agreement to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in early 2013, although its validity was subject to preliminary talks. This is why Turkey's accession to the EU has been delayed..

Should such a decision be seen as a definitive turn away from NATO?

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Friday, 24 September 2021