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Turkey to replace Ukraine as the EU's gas supplier?

The political situation in Ukraine has been harmful in a number of different ways. Like all major conflicts, its effects have been wide-ranging. One of the ways in which the crisis has hit the EU is that it has restricted imports of Russian gas, which is mainly imported through pipelines running through Ukraine.

This could have easily caused an energy crisis in Europe, but the industry has potentially found a way to stabilise this troublesome issue. In theory, Russian gas could bypass Ukraine entirely, instead being transported under the Black Sea to Turkey. From there, it would enter the EU via Greece.

But is this a viable plan or merely speculation? Turkey has made it clear that it is aiming to become an energy hub, using its advantageous position to supply Europe with eastern resources. However, does it have the capacity to do this in time to prevent an energy crisis in the EU?

 

Turkey's capabilities

There is no point expecting Turkey to transport Russia's gas if it does not have the ability to do so. The nation needs high-capacity pipelines as well as the infrastructure surrounding them. While Turkey has been constructing these at a rapid rate recently, it is unclear whether it has the capability to completely replace Ukraine.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Standard Bank's head of emerging market research Tim Ash explained that pipelines are not the only thing needed. "Ukraine has huge underground storage facilities with a capacity of 18 billion cubic metres, which are very difficult to build [or] replace," he said.

However, Turkey is clearly more than willing to develop its oil and gas industry. The Turkish Stream pipeline, a €39 billion project announced in January, will be capable of transporting 63 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Russia to Turkey. This would enable it to cement its place as an energy hub between Asia and Europe.

 

Russia's needs

Turkey isn't the only country that wants this pipeline project to succeed. Russia also needs a market for its gas, something that will be difficult to achieve without the ability to transport it to the EU. However, the Turkish Stream project was not its first choice.

Originally, Russia wanted to transport its natural gas via Bulgaria with the planned South Stream pipeline, which would go under the western Black Sea. However, this ended up being unsuccessful. Now Russia is more willing to deal with Turkey, but there are signs that this might not be the end goal.

Mr Ash said: "Russia is looking to show a willingness to build around Ukraine to improve its bargaining power with Ukraine." This could indicate that it still intends for the bulk of its gas to travel along its original routes. However, the scale of the Turkish Stream project indicates this is not the case.

 

Europe's future

Whatever happens, gas will end up being transported to Europe. However, if it goes through Turkey on the way it could end up being more beneficial for the EU and even the gas industry as a whole.
One of the best-case scenarios would be if both Turkey and Ukraine transported Russia's natural gas to the EU. This would diversify the supply, something that is usually beneficial to both producers and consumers as it will keep prices more stable and lower overall. It would also prevent over-reliance on a single nation.


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