Tag Archives: turkey

The scramble for the Mediterranean (revisited)

This piece is about the new gas (and possibly also oil) discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, which could explain a lot about the ongoing geopolitical shifts in that region.

There can be no coincidence. Two important events took place just within hours apart from each other on March 17. First the Cyprus government decided to grant drilling licenses for gas and oil to several multinational energy giants: Exxon Mobil, Qatar Petroleum, Total and ENI. On that very day, Turkey announced they’d be starting a navy exercise with live rounds just a few days later in Cypriot territorial waters, just 30 nautical miles off the SW coast of the Island of Aphrodite. Turkey said their patience was running out. Much in line with a visit a month earlier by their foreign minister Cavusoglu to the Turkish part of the island, where he warned the Greek Cypriots against any unilateral actions on the oil/gas issue.

Whoever was hoping that the gas off the Cyprus shores could serve as a platform for unification and cooperation between the two communities there, was being naive. Oil and gas are much more likely to stir up conflict, and the latest events are yet another evidence of that. The tension started to escalate instantaneously after the Cypriot move on the gas. The Greek/Turkish negotiations were halted, and the leaders of the two communities started hurling accusations at each other for this failure. Turkey used the opportunity to sharpen the tone and start issuing ultimatums and threats (they’ve been rather active in that regard lately).

The deepening conflict between Turkey and the EU, combined with increased interest by US and EU companies for drilling in the region are tightening the energy knot in the Eastern Mediterranean even more. The big discoveries in 2009 have turned the region into a key strategic hub that’s very important for the energy diversification of Europe. There’ve been arguments that this is the main reason behind all the shit-stirring in the Levant and across the Maghreb, aka Arab Spring. This includes Syria too, of course.

The thing is, the Eastern Mediterranean is the new place to be if you’re a big oil company, or a big geopolitical player. Ever since the discovery of the Egyptian oil field in Zohr, things have changed for the region – for the better or worse, depends on your perspective. But the fact that big energy giants from around the world are scrambling to invest in Cyprus, is presenting both promising prospects for development for the island, and giving sleepless nights to many leaders. If the gas treasure also turns out to be accompanied by the vast oil deposits that experts are predicting, the geopolitical situation would totally change.

Turkey is a big factor in that respect. Some major drilling activity inside the Cypriot exclusive zone is expected to commence later this year, and continue through 2018. In June, Total is planning to drill in Block 11, which could become a second Zohr field because it’s located under the same sea ridge. The first French drilling operation is anticipated with great interest, not least importantly because it had been cancelled four times in a row already. Lastly, it was scheduled for April, but now it’s been postponed for July, just days after the latest conference on the Cypriot issue ended in failure in Geneva in January. This meant pushing the deadline for a possible agreement and unification of the divided island to a unspecified future time.

Italian company ENI is also planning to make two drills by the end of the year, and US company Nobel Energy also has one drill scheduled. Exxon Mobil is also in the game, planning drills in 2018. But despite this tight schedule, any technical preparation before a possible agreement on the Cypriot issue would more likely stumble upon problems and obstacles. Without a political settlement, any drilling would make Turkey react with hostility. And this is not just a prediction, it’s what has actually happened before. Turkey has sent navy forces to the region on four occasions up till now, in a clear demonstration of force. The latest occasion was in 2014 when a seismologist research vessel entered the Cypriot exclusive zone, which made the Cyprus president Anastasiades to suspend the negotiations with the leader of the Cypriot Turks, Eroglu.

So, any attempt to proceed with drilling, despite the Cypriot Greek claim that they’ve got sovereign rights to do that, is bound to bring further tensions. Exploiting the carbon riches under the sea floor would only be possible after a wholesome political agreement that would satisfy the interests of both sides. And this is not just the opinion of some experts and the leaders of the two sides most directly involved – the special advisor to the UN Secretary General on the Cypriot question, Espen Eide has also said that first an end has to be brought to all this uncertainty on the reunification issue. The deadline he has given? This summer.

The question here is whether despite his aggressiveness and unpredictability, Erdogan would really risk sending military flotillas against the oil and gas corporations and have a direct standoff with the countries behind them (UK, US, France, Italy). Hey, Cypriot president Anastasiades has even gone as far as to declare the presence of Exxon Mobil a guarantee for the Cypriot interests. And let’s not forget that the former Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson under whom the company applied for drilling license in Cyprus, is now Trump’s secretary of state.

All in all, the situation is not easy at all. On one side, there’s rising tension with Turkey. On the other hand, the companies who are pushing for drilling rights represent the major world players. Any conflict in that regard would be extremely risky for any of the sides.

But that’s not all. There’s also the question about the potential routes that would deliver all that fuel, once it’s extracted. There are huge interests there too. We’ve already talked about Iran’s geopolitical plan to establish a friendly corridor from Pakistan across Iraq and Syria giving them access to the Mediterranean. They want this corridor to bypass the Gulf states, mainly their biggest rival Saudi Arabia. If this happens, the Straits of Hormuz would stop being so important, and the Saudis would take a big geopolitical tumble.

As for Cyprus, there are several scenarios for them to export the gas to the European markets. Of course, the final decision mostly depends on the quantities that are discovered there. Right now they’re not sufficient, but in the future the Cypriot fields could be combined with their Egyptian and Israeli counterparts, which would grant access to much bigger markets. Granted, Cyprus still lacks the needed infrastructure for this, like tanker terminals, ports, etc. But that would be built in the future.

The main gas route to possibly connect the countries in the region currently is the EastMed Pipeline, terminating at the Greek shore. The pipeline could connect Israel and Cyprus to Greece and hence Europe, supplying Israeli and Cypriot gas. The project is technically doable and economically viable, but they need to add more gas fields first to bolster its total capacity.

Naturally, the Turks are not happy because this totally bypasses them. The Russians are not happy either, because if Europe diversifies its energy sources, it would remove Putin’s only tool for geopolitical pressure. The Russians are already planning a geopolitical expansion across the southern periphery of the Eastern Mediterranean, as has been recently mentioned here before: they’ve fortified Assad in Syria, they’ve made friends with El Sisi in Egypt, and they’re now pursuing a military presence in East Libya. This is all for a reason: they want to be part of the game too.

Another option is building a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal in Cyprus itself, which again requires boosting the gas output, i.e. adding more gas fields to the mix. Part of this plan is to use the vacant facilities at the two LNG terminals currently existing in Egypt: Cypriot gas would be transported via pipeline running on the sea floor (total distance: 180 km), and then exported. If Total’s drills are successful this year, another good opportunity for export to Europe and Asia would be to use floating LNG (FLNG).

Turkey and the Cypriot Turks insist that the shortest, safest and most beneficial route to Europe would be a pipeline connection from Cyprus to Turkey (but of course!) Except, until the Cypriot question still lingers, such a project is absolutely impossible. Right now, when the Turkey-EU relations are getting worse, not better, it would be a huge political risk to give all the taps and keys to Erdogan. That would be a geopolitical suicide for Europe, and the gas/oil corporations know this.

So it’s not just about financial and economic expedience. In fact, it all mostly depends on geopolitics. Because of all the political conflicts, the prospect of building pipelines from the Egyptian and Israeli gas fields to Turkey remains questionable. Turkey and Israel used to like this idea until about a year ago, when their relations were still kind of warm(ish). Finding a mutually acceptable solution to the Cypriot issue would be of big help in that respect of course. But right now, that seems very unlikely. So the gas scramble for the Eastern Mediterranean will continue to be hostage to politics for a long time. And maybe even more so, once the fields are operational and the cards are laid on the table.

More on this Erdogan guy

Herkese merhaba! Greetings, all! I’mma occupy you with this Turkish issue once more. The Sultan keeps being on top of the news these days, so I figured I could tune in as well, what with living just next door to him, and being able to personally smell the scent coming out of his smelly ass.

See, Erdogan was, at least on paper, democratically elected. Sure, the election was partly rigged, in that he had conveniently removed most of the serious opposition to himself well in advance. Still, he wasn’t supposed to be a dictator – at least not of the Kim type. Let’s not succumb to populist temptations and media propaganda and try to view things a bit more impartially (which admittedly is not that easy, given the emotional charge of the current political situation). Erdogan is not exactly Satan, he may have some redeeming qualities, like his pragmatism (which may’ve remained in the past, granted – but more about that a bit further down). The one thing that sticks out about him is his determination, I’ll have to give him that.

Also, he was, at least initially, a genuine reformist. By the way, and this is a little-known fact particularly in the West, he actually initially expanded women’s rights – and for a time, the freedom of the press as well. As shocking as it may sound to those who’ve only been fed what the Western media deign to serve to us all. He also led Turkey towards the EU, he created a middle class where none existed, and he vastly improved the social system of his society. Those are all things that have hugely contributed to his success at home, and to his popularity. During his rule, the Turkish economy grew and expanded almost exponentially for many years in a row, where it had always lingered in the backstage before. We shouldn’t ignore any of this if we want proper context about Turkey. Because when I’m reading most analyses these days, they all seem to have converged around the notion that he’s a malevolent despot who’s leading his country towards collapse.

So far so good. But the good news end there, I’m afraid. There’s not much left of that pragmatic, albeit a bit autocratic, strong-hand leader any more. He has become much darker these days, as he has become more and more immersed in his own story of the great Neo-Ottoman Empire that he now sincerely believes is his mission to restore. If anyone still believes he’d somehow decide to get back to democratic ways sometime in the future, is fooling themselves. The Turkey of 2017 is not what it used to be – now it’s a country full of fear. People are afraid they’d be stripped of their citizenship, or intimidated, or fired, or even jailed and made to disappear, for the mere act of thinking the wrong way – Allah forbid speaking the wrong way. Criticism of your own government is no longer considered the highest form of patriotism in Turkey, rather it’s seen as treason – and this is now an official policy.

Erdogan has always been touchy. Very touchy – probably the same level of touchy as Trump. Except, he’s been in power for much longer, and has had much more tools to take petty revenge against anyone who has slighted him over the years. Journalists included. Especially journalists. But also political opponents, civil activists, military people and now foreign diplomats and even entire countries.

His relations with the press have always been at war. Especially with the Kemalist press (the old establishment), which used to be very strong before he started taking the rug from under their feet. They were always very critical of him, and for a good reason. His political philosophy is fundamentally hostile and incompatible with anything the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustaffa Kemal Ataturk stood for. And they never spared him that fact. So now he’s using his power to take revenge for that. It started from day one of his political career, back in the mid 90s when he was mayor of Istanbul. Back then, he used to constantly complain that whatever he said, it would be used by the mainstream Kemalist press. Sound familiar? In return, the press would always mock him for various things, including his poor origins (that’s a mean thing to do, I admit). They mocked him for his wife and his daughters who all wore hijabs. That was wrong too, of course. But the fact is, Erdogan himself has always resented free speech – he was just compelled to tolerate it at the time. And for a long time, all he was able to do was to sue anyone who offended him. But now, after last year’s failed coup attempt, he’s had his hands completely untied, and he has snatched the opportunity to do a sweeping clean-up against everyone and everything that doesn’t agree with him and doesn’t obey him.

And now, so emboldened, he has taken a look at Europe, and has spotted a weakness, which he’s now eager to exploit to further his Neo-Ottoman agenda. He has tested the tolerance of several countries, trying to provoke them by sending members of his government to various West European cities to rally the local Turkish diaspora in support for his planned referendum that would give him almost Sultan-like powers if it succeeds. Naturally, these countries have opposed those activities (although they’ve cited stupid excuses to block them, like “security concerns”, etc – typically half-assed stance from the hypocrite West). Erdogan has responded with his typical bombastic rhetoric, equating that opposition to “Nazi methods” and “fascism” (coming from a guy like him, that’s kind of rich). He’s also threatening with serious retaliation, both diplomatic and economic. And Europe is hardening its stance further in response. Things are not going in a good direction, but will it escalate into something truly damaging, or it’s just another episode of skillfully used PR strategy meant for distraction?

Well, given past experience, I’d bet on the latter. Erdogan’s absurd accusations sound much in the same vein as his entire election (now: referendum) strategy. The internal unrest that now exists in some Western societies (Germany, especially) about their relations with Turkey (mostly because of the migrant card that Erdogan is constantly shoving into Europe’s face for blackmail), is serving both Erdogan and the various xenophobic populists in Europe itself. The Sultan wants to impose a Dear Leader sort of “presidential” system at home, so he’s hunting for voices in the right-wing corner of the political spectrum. He needs the European nationalists to get even louder in order to invigorate his own base in Turkey. Germany and the Netherlands have so far refrained from getting tricked into that trap. Whatever you may think about those leaders, they’re not stupid or inexperienced, and they’ll do their best to preserve a level head, and try to be civil and objective, but they should also name things with their true names, and tackle the issue head-on, and put a finger on the wound. Because any other course of action would only allow it to fester even further.

The wound I’m talking about? The dismantling of what’s left of Turkish democracy. Europe should monitor the situation very closely and oppose any further persecution of other-thinkers with all means possible, wherever possible. Otherwise there’ll come a time when the rule of law will count for nothing in our south-eastern neighbor, and having an Iran-style quasi-theocratic autocracy of that caliber just next door would inevitably pose an existential threat to Europe itself in the long run. Not to mention his uneasy, yet potentially very efficient partnership with the other Tzar in the East.

Russian ambassador in Turkey is shot

Those who organised yesterday’s shooting of Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador in Turkey, likely wanted to take a revenge at Russia for her actions in Syria and to disrupt the ongoing warming up between Turkey and Russia. It seems they have failed in this, because no signs of another freezing of these relations are seen. The Turkish foreign minister is still going to visit Moscow for a trilateral meeting with Iran and Russia on Syria. The only thing the assassination will change is probably the level of security measures before the meeting.

Of course Russia will not just forgive and forget the death of their ambassador, so there will be some tensions. Especially because the memory of the downed Russian fighter jet is still so fresh.

And of course, because it is Russia and Turkey that we are talking about here, the conspiracy theories of CIA involvement popped up almost immediately. You see, America wanted to disrupt the plans of Russia, Iran and Turkey, so they staged this event. Another, even crazier version is that Russia may have sent spec ops agents to kill its own ambassadors in order to gain the upper hand at those negotiations (compassion, and all that). Sounds too cynical to me, even for Russia.

In reality, the further development of the Russian-Turkish relations mainly depends on Turkey’s behaviour from now on: how efficiently it will react, what measures it will take. It is hard to imagine that this act was inspired by the Turkish authorities. Whether the incident was due to negligence or not, Russia is right to demand the restoration of order, but without spoiling their relations with Turkey, because they are even more important now, given the latest developments in Aleppo.

Russia would hardly want to provoke a conflict – it is obvious that the attack was on Russia, not Turkey, because it is not in Turkey’s interests to spoil their relations with Russia just after having amended them somewhat.

It is very unlikely that there would be another fallout between Russia and Turkey, although some challenges are inevitable. The two countries are among the main targets of terrorism, they are at the frontline in the struggle against terrorism, so they will have to proceed with the negotiations no matter what. And these negotiations will have to be constructive, no matter the differences. And of those there sure are many. But this monstrous act is now a chance for them to become even more sane and constructive. Because it is evident that neither side is safe.

This was an act not on the ambassador, but against Russia, and their interests. It was obviously a well-planned terror act; what remains to be specified is whether it was committed by a lone wolf or a group. It does not seem too possible that a single person did this on their own, though. It takes a lot of organisation to infiltrate a guarded event of this sort.

Ultimately, the most important question is, who gains from this act? First and foremost, it is those who do not want Russia and Turkey to negotiate a solution of the Syrian situation. Another important aspect is the economic cooperation between these two countries, particularly the gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey. There are a number of influential regional players who do not want that project to become reality. In any case, the trail leads outside of Turkey. Whether it is somewhere in the Gulf or beyond the Atlantic, I suppose we will never learn for sure. What matters now is that neither side should take hasty steps, even though the temptation to “do something, anything” and retaliate is great, and war is in the air every time a diplomat of this calibre is killed (just to remind how World War I started).

Russia is already paying a steep price for getting involved in the Middle Eastern quagmire – first the downed fighter jet, then the passenger plane over Sinai, and now the killed ambassador. The cost is getting greater by the day, although they may have gained a tactical victory on the field for the time being. Getting so heavily involved means the threat of Paris- and now Berlin-style attacks on Russian soil are imminent. Perhaps the Russian people would hold their leaders accountable for it at some point, but for now, they seem to revel in their victories happening at the presumably safe distance of thousands of miles away.