Turkey Eyes Energy Role For Putin Visit

by Sibel Utku Bila

Agence France Presse
August 4, 2009 Tuesday 3:03 AM GMT

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is to visit Ankara Thursday for
talks expected to focus on energy cooperation amid a growing Turkish
role in projects to carry gas and oil to Europe.

"Cooperation in the field of energy will be a primary issue on the
agenda," an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Situated between Europe and the vast oil and gas fields of the Caspian
Sea and the Middle East, Turkey has emerged as a hub for pipelines
to supply the energy-hungry West.

Last month, Ankara hosted the signing of a long-delayed accord to
build the Nabucco pipeline to carry Caspian gas via Turkey to Bulgaria,
Romania, Hungary and Austria, bypassing Russia.

The project, planned to become operational in 2014, aims to reduce
European reliance on Russia and avoid a repetition of cut-offs that
disrupted winter supplies and sparked accusations Moscow was using
gas as a political weapon.

Turkey however has been careful not to antagonise Russia — its top
trading partner and main gas supplier — and Erdogan has insisted
that Russia should also join the countries that would provide gas
for Nabucco.

"This is a long-term proposal," Erdogan’s aide said. "Russia’s
participation in the project would not harm the aim of diversifying
energy supply."

In direct competition with Nabucco, Russia is pushing for its own
project to pump gas to Europe — South Stream — and may seek Ankara’s
support to have the pipe pass through Turkish territorial waters in
the Black Sea rather than Ukrainian waters, according to Turkish media.

Russia and Turkey are not outright rivals in the energy field and
their ties instead resemble "that game in which children try to pull
each other to their side across a line," columnist Semih Idiz wrote
in the Milliyet daily Monday.

Turkey is already directly linked to Russia through the Blue Stream
gas pipeline, which runs under the Black Sea.

Hoping to attract Russian and Kazakh oil, Ankara is also promoting
a pipeline from its Black Sea port of Samsun to Ceyhan on the
Mediterranean coast, which already serves as a terminal in conduits
pumping oil from Azerbaijan and Iraq.

Putin’s energy agenda in Ankara is likely to include also a
long-delayed project to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

Russia’s state firm Atomstroyexport was the only bidder in an auction
in January, but the Turkish government is yet to decide whether to
award it the project amid misgivings over the financial terms the
company offered.

Erdogan’s aide said the two prime ministers would also discuss regional
affairs in the Caucasus.

Russia has been mediating talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over
the Nagorny Karabakh dispute, the settlement of which is crucial for
speeding up Ankara’s efforts to reconcile and establish diplomatic
ties with Yerevan.

Another prominent issue is Georgia, whose NATO membership Turkey
supports, despite fierce Russian opposition.

Russia’s military intervention in the former Soviet republic last year
briefly strained relations with Turkey, which has close economic and
political ties with Georgia, its northeastern neighbour.

Turkey sought to tread carefully and proposed a regional platform for
stability and cooperation in the Caucasus that will bring together
the two foes as well as Azerbaijan, Armenia and itself.

Despite sometimes shaky political ties, economic exchange between
the two countries has boomed since the fall of Communism: in 2008,
their trade volume hit 37.8 billion dollars, making Russia Turkey’s
number one trading partner.

Russia supplies about 60 percent of Turkey’s gas imports, and more
than a million Russian holiday-makers boost Turkey’s vital tourism
sector each year.