28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for May 2011

Fukushima and the East-West energy corridor

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The failure of the light water reactor in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture to withstand the March 2011 tsunami will (whether it is a sensible reaction or not) discourage new ventures in nuclear power. The newest big-time player in energy—natural gas—will become even more essential in the West and, as a pipeline for the ever-expanding market, so will Turkey.

According to this report:

In the near term, as world economies begin to recover from the downturn, global demand for natural gas is expected to rebound, with natural gas supplies from a variety of sources keeping markets well supplied and prices relatively low.

Among these sources is “Russia and the other countries of non-OECD Europe and Eurasia” (read: Caspian) with an increase in production of 6 trillion cubic feet from 2007 to 2035. With well-supplied markets and low prices, financing pipelines as an efficient means of transportation will become a critical interest for energy companies with stakes in natural gas. This will be of especial interest to nations such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, which are slated, along with Russia, for further natural gas production. By piping liquefied natural gas to Turkey’s nearest high-capacity Mediterranean port, Ceyhan (as they do with oil), the Caspian nations would be able to reach a large Mediterranean and European market—without relying on Russia or Iran for right-of-way.

Russia, displeased by these prospects, may have even further troubles in the future with its own increased natural gas production. If Russian supply exceeds Eastern European demand, which is believable, a wider market will be desirable. But with the Turkish Straits already jam-packed with Russian oil tankers, there is no room for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers that would be necessary for Russia to export to the Mediterranean (there were 200+ tanker collisions/incidents in the ’90s alone). The solution? Turkey would propose the use of overland routes similar if not identical to those used by other Caspian Sea nations. This may be, for Russia, the only solution (and would be a source of extra pocket change for Turkey). But it will only have to be a “solution” if Turkey doesn’t absorb the remainder of Russia’s export all by itself before it can reach the Mediterranean market—another believable scenario.

Regardless, the Caspian won’t stop producing any time soon, and for Turkey, the West, NATO, and opportunistic supervillain daughters of oil tycoons, a Turkish East-West energy corridor for natural gas is a promising, and lucrative, possibility.

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Written by M. James

May 24, 2011 at 2:20 am

Turkey sells al-Assad short

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With the recent uprisings in the cities of Deraa, Homs, and Banias, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad apparently feels he has everything to lose. Despite Syria’s best efforts to keep journalists out of the country, reports of the ongoing military violence against protestors—as well as imprisonment and torture of civilians—have made their way into mainstream news. Unsurprisingly, the US and the EU have invoked sanctions, and anyone with an interest in political self-presevation has been condemning al-Assad’s “regime.”

This includes Turkey, for which al-Assad can no longer be a legitimate diplomatic partner. No doubt, this ends an era of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Syria, for better or worse.

Turkey’s relationship with Syria has been cold and confrontational for the vast majority of the history of the Turkish republic, marked by continual territorial disputes over southern Turkey’s Hatay province and differing opinions on Israel, among other things. For example, Turkey, projecting power over its downstream neighbor, constructed dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, threatening Syria’s water supply. In turn, Syria harbored and aided Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and bitter enemy of the Turkish republic. During the course of these events Turkey threatened to invade Syria on numerous occasions. It would be understatement to call their status-quo relationship “on the rocks.”

But these difficulties have recently been put on the back burner in favor of more amicable diplomacy. Recent relations have been relatively warm, beginning–perhaps–with the Iraq War in 2003, to which both countries were vehemently opposed.  Since then, Turkey’s relationship with Israel declined (Syria approved), free-trade agreements were signed between Turkey and Syria, and Syria withdrew troops from Lebanon, making Syria a more eligible parter for diplomacy in the eyes of the international community. Things were looking up.

But in its current state, Syria is more frowned-upon by the international community than ever. Ever since his reaction to the uprisings as they became more prominent, President al-Assad has flushed his legitimacy down the drain. In the wake of the fall of Egypt’s Mubarak, and with the eyes of the world on Middle Eastern “autocracies,” al-Assad’s hardline approach will reflect even more poorly on his government than it usually would. And with Turkey publicly—and powerfully—declaring its support for what some have coined the “Arab Awakening” or the “Arab Spring,” supporting Syria and its government is no longer appropriate.

Will al-Assad leave his post in the near future? It’s anyone’s guess, but it has no bearing on Turkey’s policy toward Syria. If Turkey is to “trust the masses” and maintain its role as a supporter of the Arab Awakening, it cannot support a Syrian regime that appears to oppress its citizens, and it must sell al-Assad’s government short—in spite of recent amicability—to retain its legitimacy.

Written by M. James

May 17, 2011 at 9:21 am