President Vladimir Putin has proposed to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that Russia could export more gas through Turkey and turn it into a new supply hub as he tries to preserve Russia’s energy leverage over Europe.
At a meeting in Kazakhstan on Thursday, Putin said Turkey offered the most reliable route to deliver gas to the European Union and the proposed hub would allow prices to be set independent of politics.
Russia is looking to redirect supplies away from the two Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic. They were damaged last month in explosions that are still under investigation. Russia blamed the West without providing evidence and rejected what it called “stupid” assertions that it had sabotaged the pipelines itself.
Putin told Erdogan the hub would be “a platform not only for supplies but also for determining the price because this is a very important issue”.
“Today, these prices are sky-high,” he said. “We could easily regulate at a normal market level without any political overtones.”
Erdogan did not respond in the televised portion of their meeting, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the Russian news agency RIA as saying both men ordered a rapid and detailed examination of the idea.
Peskov said the TurkStream gas pipeline cannot be a replacement for the Nord Stream pipelines because they have “different capacities”, RIA cited him as saying.
‘A feasible project’
Russia supplied about 40 percent of Europe’s gas before its February 24 invasion of Ukraine, but it has cut flows sharply since then, even before the pipeline explosions. It blamed technical problems for the interruptions in deliveries, which it said were the result of Western sanctions.
European governments rejected that explanation, accusing Moscow of using energy as a geopolitical weapon.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Turkey’s energy minister told reporters at the same energy conference in Kazakhstan with Putin that “this is a feasible project, and technically, energy-wise, this is possible and it shall be studied.”
It remains to be seen whether European countries would accept this proposal, Koseoglu said.
“When it comes to energy pipelines, this is more than a solution; this is like a geostrategic game, a strategic problem,”Koseoglu said. “What will define the situation will be the European Union’s request or demand or appetite regarding Russian gas.
“Through this proposal, Erdogan gains another chance to gain more credibility among his European counterparts.”
The French presidency on Thursday snubbed Putin’s proposal. “There is no sense in creating new infrastructure that allows more Russian gas to be imported,” a statement said.
Relations with NATO member Turkey are vital to Russia at a time when the West has hit it with waves of economic sanctions, which Ankara has refrained from joining. Turkey, however, has rejected Russia’s move to annex four Ukrainian regions as a “grave violation” of international law.
Erdogan has sought to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv and achieved a rare breakthrough in July when, together with the United Nations, he brokered an agreement allowing for the resumption of commercial Ukrainian grain exports from Black Sea ports that Russia had blockaded.
But Russia has complained that its own grain and fertiliser exports, while not directly targeted by Western sanctions, continue to be hampered by problems such as access to foreign ports and obtaining insurance.
Erdogan told Putin: “We are determined to strengthen and continue the grain exports … and the transfer of Russian grain and fertiliser to less developed countries via Turkey.”
Russian officials said before the meeting that they were open to hearing proposals from Turkey about hosting peace talks involving Russia and the West.
However, Peskov was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying, “The topic of a Russian-Ukrainian settlement was not discussed” by the leaders.