05.06.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkmen gas is being transported through Turkey


The struggle for strategic natural resources in post-Soviet Central Asia is reformatting international relations in the region and triggering confrontation between the key players. Turkey is gaining new opportunities on the global stage with the launch of energy transit routes that bypass Russia. 

Geo-economic and geopolitical significance of natural gas transit routes.

Modern economies are unable to continue developing without access to traditional energy sources, including natural gas. Despite breakthroughs in industrial technologies and renewable energy sources, national economies, especially those of developed countries, will continue to need supplies of gas for a long time to come.

And ideally the source of the gas should be conveniently located, without a long transit route involving its transportation across multiple international borders. But generally energy resource deposits tend to be located at a considerable distance from the consumer, requiring the establishment of long term multimodal transit projects to carry energy from point A to point B, often across challenging terrain or bodies of water and passing through conflict regions. It is also necessary to overcome the geopolitical and geo-economic obstacles caused by the existence of competing centers of power.

Often, in the modern world, military conflicts have their roots in questions relating to the control of natural resource deposits (including gas fields) and transit routes. Gas is becoming an effective instrument for exercising geo-economic and geopolitical influence on the financial and political elites involved in each of the three stages of the supply process (i.e. suppliers, transporters, consumers).

When the world was divided into spheres of geopolitical influence, resulting in a balanced international system (for example the world order that developed after the Second World War and remained in place for the second half of the twentieth century), the competition between world powers for access to petrochemical resources served to maintain a certain level of stability. In other words, the West, led by the United States, and its allies in the developing world were able to control a considerable part of the oil- and gas-rich countries of the Arab Middle East, Iran (until 1979), part of Latin America and Northern Europe. The USSR itself was rich in these raw materials and maintained control in some countries in the Middle East, North Africa and South America.

With the end of the USSR, things changed in the global energy market. US geopolitical dominance distorted the world order and served to aggravate regional relations. The “collective West,” led by the US and Britain, once again rushed into Eurasia in order to access the wealth of material resources and markets in the post-Soviet countries, where oil and gas started to play a key role in their trade balance and interests and serve as a means of influencing regional elites.

Post-Soviet natural gas suppliers can be divided into three groups: Russia, the Caucasus (Azerbaijan) and Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan). And while the West has not been able to establish its control over Russia, it has done so over Azerbaijan and the Central Asian countries ever since the first half of the 1990s, specifically since September 20, 1994, when the first oil and gas “contracts of the century” were signed between leading Western and Turkish energy companies and Azerbaijan.

The main purpose of these agreements was to create alternative energy transit infrastructure and transportation routes or corridors bypassing Russia, and thus to reduce and subsequently displace the Russian Federation’s influence in the regions within its historical sphere of responsibility. Turkey, with its strategic geographic location and close ethnic and cultural links to the newly independent Turkic countries with their rich oil and gas resources, became the next key link in the implementation of this project, and this NATO member was transformed into the main transit route for the export of raw materials from the Caspian basin to Europe.

Increasing geo-economic influence of Turkey as the main gas transporter to the European market.

In 2018, the Southern Gas Corridor from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey and Europe, which is not controlled or influenced by Russia, entered into operation. The Corridor includes the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum, Trans-Anatolian and Trans-Adriatic pipelines. The victory of Turkey and Azerbaijan in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020 created favorable conditions for Turkey’s long-term and large-scale access to the Central Asian region and specifically to the natural resources of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, located on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. In turn, the export of strategic raw materials from this energy-rich region through Turkey to financially prosperous Europe will allow Ankara to form a solid economic base for pan-Turkic integration in accordance with its Turanist doctrine.

That leaves unanswered the matter of developing the required infrastructure projects, including pipeline (or tanker) transit of gas from the Central Asian countries (primarily Turkmenistan) to the gas pipeline system of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Along the way, Turkey will have to overcome geopolitical and geo-economic obstacles and address the concerns of the key Caspian basin countries (i.e. Russia and Iran).

Since 2022, amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the West’s sanctions war against Russia, Turkey has further consolidated its status as an important transit partner for the transportation of Russian and non-Russian (Azeri) gas to global markets. Unfortunately, the sabotage by NATO special services of the Russian Nord Stream-1 and 2 gas pipelines (1224 and 1234 km long, respectively) in the Baltic Sea on September 26, 2022 created a new situation for the gas transit market. Russia was forced to offer Turkey a gas hub and propose the creation of an electronic exchange for the sale of gas to world markets.

Therefore, the new situation in the gas supply market has further strengthened Turkey’s transit role in the eyes of Europe. Ankara began to deliberately draw out the implementation of the gas hub in Eastern Thrace, citing election issues, the need to adopt the required procedural regulations and laws and US sanctions pressure. Meanwhile, Turkey is successfully bargaining for favorable terms for its participation in the gas hub project (including gas discounts, joint participation in gas trading and deferred payments). Turkey is also linking the implementation of the gas hub with the issue of increasing gas supplies from other countries (including Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan).

In other words, Ankara is assessing its growing role in trade with Russia and is trying to impose its own terms in relation to the gas trade, including access to Central Asian resources. It should be noted that since 2023, there has been an intensification of trade, economic and political relations between Turkey and the other members of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS).

Kazakhstan plans to supply up to 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe through Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s gas transportation networks, while Turkmenistan plans to supply up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas via the same route. Due to the lack of a gas pipeline system along the Caspian Sea bed to Azerbaijan, the plan is to liquefy Kazakh and Turkmen gas, deliver it by tanker to Baku, and then regasify the LNG and send it to Europe through the pipeline system of the Southern Gas Corridor. In turn, Azerbaijan, according to a statement made by President Ilham Aliyev on May 7, increased gas supplies to Europe from 8 billion cubic meters in 2021 to 12 billion cubic meters in 2024.

Turkmen gas has found a new route to Europe.

Given the volume of Turkmenistan’s proven natural gas reserves, it is only natural that the struggle for their control has become a new priority for Turkey, the United States and Europe. In early 2024, at the Anatolian Diplomatic Forum, former president and current chairman of the People’s Council of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow said that Ashgabat might become a member of the Organization of Turkic States this year and start supplying gas to Turkey and Europe. In view of this position, Turkmengaz and Turkey’s BOTAŞ then signed a declaration on cooperation.

Ashgabat has discussed two routes for possible transit of Turkmen gas to Turkey and Europe:

1) through Azerbaijan, if the necessary agreement is signed with Baku and Turkmenistan’s ownership of the Dostluk gas field on its maritime border with the Republic of Azerbaijan is recognized. As readers may be aware, Baku and Ashgabat still have a border dispute over the ownership of this offshore field. The joint Azerbaijani-Turkmen group established by Turkey after the second Karabakh war on February 25, 2021 to develop an intergovernmental agreement on the exploration, development and operation of the field has not yet made a final decision.

2) through Iran, if Azerbaijan refuses to sign the border agreement.

Meanwhile, under the influence of Turkey, Azerbaijan’s Minister of the Economy Mikayil Jabbarov and Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Alparslan Bayraktar signed another agreement on cooperation in the gas sector in Istanbul on May 14. One innovation in this new document was Baku’s agreement to the transit of Turkmen gas through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey in winter 2024-2025. In the initial stage, it is planned that about 2 billion cubic meters of gas will be transported via this route, and then exported to Europe. Alparslan Bayraktar also noted that the Igdir-Nakhchivan gas pipeline is planned to be operational by winter 2024. “In addition to the existing three routes, the South Caucasus Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline running through Azerbaijan and Georgia to the border with Turkey, the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) running through Turkey, and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) running through Greece, Albania and Italy, a fourth route is to will be built. This will be the Igdir-Nakhchivan pipeline.”

Ankara is thus sounding out the possibility of expanding the sources of natural gas to be supplied to Europe from the Turkic countries of the Caspian basin via Turkey. In total, this volume could exceed 50 billion cubic meters of gas, which is certainly capable of competing with exports from Russia.


Alexander SVARANTS — Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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