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TurkStream Pipeline: New Cold War Realignments and the Return of M.A.D.


Dr. Can Erimtan
21st Century Wire

In today’s world, competing narratives once again seem to put nations and populations into competing power blocs, with the United States and its NATO allies in one corner, facing-off with Russia and China accompanied by a motley array of friends and allies, in the other. In order to uncover important geopolitical movements taking place, we must first get past the surface narratives. Nowhere is this more true than with identifying impending shifts in regional power-balancing following the completion of the TurkStream pipeline.

Even though no real ideological differences seem to exist warranting strife and competition – after all, Capitalism rules the day all the way – the West’s mainstream media like to portray Moscow as a bastion of rightwing reaction and as a hub of a global conspiracy network, as if reality had become a James Bond scenario, with nefarious bad guys trying to thwart the Free World for monetary and/or purely evil gains. And that global strife has variously been referred to as the New Cold War, a term I have been bandying about since 2011.

The New Cold War and Pipelineistan: Resource Competition

I would like to propose that underlying these Flemingesque storylines is the bane of today’s world, which is resource competition, as Michael T. Klare so presciently posited during the administration of George W. Bush (2001-09). Though Klare’s book Resource Wars appeared in the aftermath of 9/11, his contentions do not dovetail with a Huntingtonian clash of civilisations. Instead, he takes account of the fact that the resources needed for the continuation of human civilisation are necessarily limited and finite, which leads Klare to propose that “in the future [which is arguably now], international conflicts will not be dominated by considerations of political or ideological issues, or by ethnic, cultural or religious issues (although these may be present), but by the ownership and control of resources which are considered essential to the different states,” as summarised by José Augusto de Sousa Silveira. At this point in time, when species appear to go extinct at an alarming rate and the availability of potable water seems set to become a major concern, the issue of energy and hydrocarbon stocks still easily dominates the thoughts of global policy-makers, marking their decisions and determining their deeds. In other words, one could argue that one aspect of the current New Cold War is nothing but a revamped “Great Game” of yesteryear. Therefore, I would like to propose that the currently ongoing New Cold War should be understood partly as a scramble for securing the availability and access to cheap and manageable energy resources – oil and gas, primarily.


TURKSTREAM: Russia’s doorway into southern and central Europe (Image: Gazprom Export).

The United States has used the new extraction technology of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) as a means of securing its own domestic oil and gas resources. Earlier this year, Time‘s energy and environment correspondent Justin Worland unwittingly spelled out the issue: “U.S. oil and natural gas is on the verge of transforming the world’s energy markets for a second time, further undercutting Saudi Arabia and Russia,” explaining that the “widespread adoption of fracking in the U.S. opened billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas to production.” In fact, the Trump administration has even proposed exporting U.S.-produced gas to Europe, in order to break the EU’s dependence on Russia. As such, last March, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (or IEA) confidently announced that “[o]ver the next three years, gains from the United States alone will cover 80% of the world’s demand growth,“ envisioning an easy continuation of America’s dominance over the world, and particularly Europe. In the face of these developments, it stands to reason that the Russian side would react before long. For this reason, Russia’s President Putin (aka the Czar) has cunningly realligned himself with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez) in order to have a new pipeline constructed – the TurkStream.

The project for this addition to Turkey’s share in the vast network that is Pipelineistan came about last year, as an “addition to the already active pipeline network connecting both countries – the Blue Stream, ‘designed to deliver Russian natural gas to Turkey across the Black Sea bypassing third countries’ and constructed in 2001-02, with the actual gas flow starting in February 2003 traveling a whopping ‘1,213 kilometers’ in the process. As a Middle Eastern country with no real hydrocarbon resources on its soil,’ Turkey imports nearly 99% of the natural gas it consumes,’ with 55,3% of its natural gas needs imported from Russia (followed by supplies from Iran, Azerbaijan, Algeria and Nigeria),” as I pointed out last year. But the new TurkStream would also transit Turkish territories in order to penetrate Fortress Europe (or the EU) from its south-eastern flank. And now, on Monday, 19 November 2018, President Putin flew to Istanbul in order to attend a ceremony to mark the completion of the TurkStream gas pipeline’s offshore section. Turkey’s Anatolian Agency proudly proclaims that the “construction of the offshore section of the TurkStream, the pipeline project that will carry Russian gas to Turkey, has been completed. Alternate routes for the second phase of the project that would carry gas to Europe are under evaluation.”

The now-completed TurkStream underwater pipeline runs from Anapa on the Russian coast to Kıyıköy in the Turkish region of Thrace (a distance of 930 kilometres), to the west of the metropolis Istanbul. TurkStream consists of two lines, the first of which will cater for Turkey with a capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters, while the second line of equal capacity is planned to serve Europe, as was reported earlier this year. And this second pipeline constitutes Russia’s Turkish gambit in the ongoing New Cold War, I would argue. At the moment it is still not clear which route the gas will follow, as negotiations with Bulgaria as well as Greece are still underway. In fact, Greece has its own energy ambitions: last September, Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu (aka Bibi) “held a trilateral meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides” in the city of Jerusalem. The three men met for the express purpose of coming to an agreement with regard to the laying of a “joint Israel-Cyprus-Greece East-Med gas pipeline,” in order to export gas to Europe, arguably as a way of thwarting Russian designs. Bibi is not shy about challenging Putin on his own territory, proclaiming that the East-Med pipeline is “a great project, [that] could be one of the great underwater projects in the world.“ As such, Russia and Greece have ties, based on a common Orthodox faith and tradition, that date back to the year 1833, as the Greek Foreign Ministry proudly proclaims.

On one hand, in the current climate Greece does not seem willing to cooperate in the TurkStream venture. On the other hand, Bulgaria is moving closer to Russia now. Still, there is some time left for the continuation of further negotiations and alliance-building in the current New Cold War configuration as TurkStream is only set to become operational at the end of 2019. And Bulgarian President Rumen Radev could very well decide to join the Prez and the Czar in another tripartite dance of sorts, with Bibi beckoning with his own pirouettes straddling Leviathan field off the Gaza coast and Cyprus – the Leviathan field, arguably one of the main reasons behind’s Israel’s continued siege of Gaza.

It’s a MAD world: The Art of Brinkmanship or the Art of the Deal

Prior to Putin’s latest chess move in the ongoing power contest and resource rivalry that is the New Cold War, Donald Trump already managed to up the ante. On 20 October, the POTUS somewhat unexpectedly declared that the United States was “going to terminate the [INF] agreement,” curtly adding that “we’re going to pull out.” This would clearly mean upsetting one of Ronald Reagan’s lasting legacies: the “1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty [which] required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.” Back in the good old days when the world was neatly divided in two halves, bifurcated by an Iron Curtain keeping the Communist East and the Capitalist West separate and opposite, the nuclear arms’ race supposedly kept the peace by means of relying on the folly of nuclear conflict. Nuclear war would surely destroy the opponent but would also inevitably lead to the demise of the whole wide world. Hence the acronym MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction, which goes back to JFK’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s speech to the American Bar Foundation in 1962. McNamara’s words were to lead to the development of a “philosophy of nuclear deterrence,” which held that both parties stockpiled huge nuclear arsenals, so that in the event of one side attacking the other, the latter would “have enough nuclear firepower to survive a first wave of nuclear strikes and strike back,” obliterating the whole world in the process.

The expert in business strategy and game theory Professor Barry Nalebuff describes this dubious, if not outright mad, proposition as a “nuclear game of ‘chicken’ [which] is called brinkmanship,” by the parties involved. And brinkmanship is a concept that by now looks rather commonplace, but as a noun was actually specifically conceived for the purpose of expressing the nature and practice of this ‘nuclear game of chicken,’ as a compound of such terms like ‘salesmanship’ and the noun ‘brink.’ People particularly associated the term brinkmanship with the policies advocated by John Foster Dulles, U.S. Secretary of State 1953-1959, during the Eisenhower administration (1953-61). Talking to the Time-Life Washington bureau chief James Shepley, Dulles characterised his own mastery of brinkmanship as his “ability to get to the verge without getting into the war.” And now, President Trump has taken it upon himself to show the world that his mastery of the ‘Art of the Deal’ is no less than Dulles’ dexterity in brinkmanship. In reality though, this decision to return to a nuclear arms’ race had already been made in November 2017, when U.S. lawmakers voted to “require the Defense Department to establish a program to begin development of a new missile system that if tested would violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.” Rather than initiating policy, President Trump appears simply to go along with U.S. imperial policy, as I already pointed out with regard to his decision on Afghanistan last year. And now, with regard to the New Cold War, the President seems to meekly follow the lead of the House and Senate passing the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act on 14 and 16 November 2017, respectively.

New Cold War Realities: The Prize of Europe

In this respect, President Trump seems keen to tear down a treaty wall erected by none other than Ronald Reagan (1981-89) himself and continue the work of George W. Bush, actually building upon yet another Reagan legacy: nine months prior to 9/11 and the proclamation of the War-on-Terror, Bush made public his desire to deploy a scheme nicknamed the “Son of Star Wars”, in reference to Ronald Reagan’s SDI project. This Strategic Defense Initiative envisioned the use of interceptor missiles designed to seek out and collide with approaching enemy missile warheads. Bush had his version of this folly scheme renamed National Missile Defense or NMD, and imagined that this revival of missile-building activities would easily include Europe, thereby basically threatening Russia with a deployment of U.S.-built missile launchpads, eager to intercept hostile rockets launched by as yet unidentified “rogue states,” a vague term used by Bush that seemed to target Russia without actually naming the country. At the time, Vladimir Putin said that the realisation of the NMD scheme would cause “irreparable damage to the architecture of international relations,” damage that has now morphed into a full-blown New Cold War. And now, Donald J. Trump seems to take this revival of missile-building to new heights, by means of adding a new type of nuclear missile to the U.S. arsenal, arguably triggering Russia to follow suit in a renewed ‘nuclear game of chicken’ . . . In fact, Trump even hinted at extending this arms’ race beyond the confines of earth itself, boasting he would set up a “Space Force,” as a sixth military branch of the United States Army.

But, back on terra firma far removed from crazy money-making schemes that would solely benefit the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex, the real bone of contention between the U.S. and Russia seems to be Europe. The NMD scheme namely aims to incorporate the old world as well. Even the Ukraine, at present still well outside either EU or NATO but “Europe’s second largest country,” following Russia, is now being considered as a possible launch site for ‘defensive’ missile systems. The non-profit organization Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), which advocates the development and deployment of missile defense for the United States and its allies, on its website, unequivocally states that “[i]n response to Russia’s occupation of Crimea, the U.S. and its NATO allies are considering increasing U.S. ballistic missile defenses in Europe.” The U.S. also eyes the now-EU members Poland and Romania: the Romanian Aegis Ashore site is the first of two missile defense shields to be placed in Eastern Europe. And it is now “expected” that in 2020, another Aegis Ashore site would be added in Poland. In the present context, however, numerous West European leaders have publicly criticised Donald J. Trump as “untrustworthy,” and as result this new configuration could very well lead to some unexpected moves and U-turns. Russia has countered these missile investment plans by means of appealing to the EU’s need for cheap gas: the Russian TurkStream would all but support and strengthen its projected Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to double Russia’s current capacity to deliver natural gas direct to Germany under the Baltic Sea, circumventing Ukraine as well.

Moscow and Ankara have now moved closer to one another, but Moscow has also established good relations with Tehran, primarily as a result of its direct involvement in Syria’s Not-So Civil War. In this way, the Czar, the Prez and Iran’s Rouhani now seem to constitute a new triumvirate united in their resolve to tackle U.S. hegemony in the world. In the current energy rivalry wing of the New Cold War, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a major player in its own right, holding the  fourth largest crude oil reserves and the second largest natural gas reserve in the world, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA). Rather than viewing these statistics as positive arguments, the Trump administration has many hawks when it comes to Iran – from National Security Adviser Bolton to Secretary of State Pompeo, in fact. And Trump himself famously tore up Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran on 8 May this year. The axis between Moscow, Ankara and Tehran also includes an eastern link to Beijing. Russia and China have been conducting joint naval drills since 2012 and both countries seem to have been moving ever closer over time. In Foreign Policy, Eugene K. Chow recently remarked that this “newfound trust [between Moscow and Beijing] spells trouble for the United States and its partners in the region.” Chow’s words underline the fact that the Pax Americana established in the aftermath of World War II is now apparently really on the brink of coming undone. In fact, Putin as well as China’s Xi both seem to go after the European prize with relish: Russia has been at the forefront of trying to exploit the Arctic’s underground assets that are now becoming more accessible, while China seems ready to incorporate the world’s north into its ambitious plans for global trade and commerce. The energy specialist Tsvetana Paraskova maintains that there is no limit to “Russia’s ambitions or plans to develop oil resources in its sections of the Arctic;” while China wants to incorporate the Arctic in its Belt and Road Initiative, even attempting to construct a “Polar Silk Road” or a “blue economic passage,” linking China and Europe through the Arctic Ocean.

And while the Czar and the Prez are honing their dancing skills, all the while trying to incorporate more partners into their elaborate moves and pirouettes, the U.S. under Trump seems set to become a wallflower, wallowing in its self-imposed isolation and “exceptionalism.” It seems that the American insistence upon kindling and maintaining a New Cold War has so far only led to rather adverse results. President Trump steadfastly continues the U.S. imperial policy but seems unaware of the fact that his bravado and bluster do not really engender beneficial outcomes, though his personal accounts might be gaining in currency. At the moment, as the world is apparently in shock over the apparently brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul’s Saudi consulate, while being rather non-committal about Saudi atrocities in the Yemen, the U.S. President issued a statement which should not have come as a surprise. Rather than outright condemning Saudi Arabia, Trump instead talks about Iran and its nefarious role in the contemporary world: the “country of Iran . . . is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria.”

Major Geopolitical Realignment?

In the end, what this means is that Europe  now has to find the will to liberate itself from the shackles of the American Empire, and the combined efforts of TurksStream and NordStream will undoubtedly mean that the Russian influence in Europe will be on the rise in coming years . . . The EU as Fortress Europe seems on the brink of having to choose a new orientation in its outlook. After all, the sun rises in the East, and Europe is but the westernmost edge of the vast Eurasian continent, straddling east and west.

Will Europe be able to realign itself before it is too late or will the inertia of empire prevail condemning Europe to isolation and desolation?!??  Will the New Cold War have to turn hot before long or will cooler heads prevail and lead the way to a peaceful energy security for the foreseeable future?!?? Or, will the realities of resource rivalry remain obscured by bellicose rhetoric and self-destructive cupidity?!

STAY TUNED FOR PART II…

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21WIRE special contributor Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent historian and geo-political analyst who used to live in Istanbul. At present, he is in self-imposed exile from Turkey. He has  a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans, the greater Middle East, and the world beyond. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the revisionist monograph “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In Istanbul, Erimtan started publishing in Today’s Zaman and in Hürriyet Daily News. In the next instance, he became the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. Subsequently, he commenced writing for RT Op-Edge, NEO, and finally, the 21st Century Wire. You can find him on Twitter at @theerimtanangle

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