Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
Putin’s main objective is the destruction of the Ukrainian gas transit system as such. If he achieves it, he could afford open intervention in Ukraine without fear of threatening the reliability of his gas “purse.”
The main result of the first visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to Istanbul after the resumption of relations was the signing of the agreement on the building of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. As is known, negotiations on this project have been going on for some time, ever since Putin, annoyed by the requirements of the European Commission, gave up on the construction of the South Stream pipeline.
However, from the time that negotiations began for the construction of the Turkish Stream pipeline and up to the moment when the first preliminary agreement was signed, the ambitious project has been reduced from four to two pipelines. And now only one line is being discussed.
This is the pipeline that will be supplying gas only to Turkey. And not even to all of Turkey but to its European part. Because the rest of the Turkish territory receives gas from Russia via another pipeline — the Blue Stream.
Indeed, if the project to create the first Turkish Stream pipeline is implemented, it will deprive Ukraine of 15 billion cubic meters of transit gas. But this quantity is far from all the gas that passes through Ukraine’s gas transit system.
One must understand that Putin’s main goal is not simply to reduce the volume of transit but to destroy the Ukrainian gas transit system completely. Because only in this case could he afford open intervention in Ukraine without fearing that the reliability of his gas “purse” would be threatened
Putin’s plans have nothing to do with economics. The Turkish Stream will replace the route that is functioning properly even in the current difficult political environment. Billions of dollars will be spent on it and the investment will not pay off for years because of the high cost of underwater construction.
Furthermore, Moscow will have to give Ankara a major discount on gas. Otherwise Erdogan simply will not allow further construction. Besides, the Turkish president needs the discount now. But the pipeline will not be built for several years.
As for the second branch of the pipeline, it does not go anywhere and there are absolutely no guarantees that Moscow will obtain the consent of European consumers to build portions of the route from the Greek border. And if Moscow does not obtain this consent, there will be no second pipeline. And even if there is, it would not compensate for all the volume that is now transported through Ukraine’s Gas Transport System.
It would be possible to compensate for this volume only if the Europeans agree to the construction of North Stream 2. If Turkish Stream and North Stream 2 are built then it would be possible to give up Ukrainian transit.
I do not doubt that Putin will now do everything possible to complete both projects before 2019 — the deadline for the Russian-Ukrainian agreement on the transit. This is why Putin entrusted the management of the building of Nord Stream 2 to his friend and lobbyist, the former federal chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. But in addition to the German lobbyists, the project has quite a few opponents in the EU.
However, I have no doubt that Putin will expend efforts and money to persuade these opponents as he has now persuaded Erdogan. He really needs Ukraine. And this is why he really needs the war.