– Europe Is Getting Record Amounts Of Russian Gas Through TurkStream. So Who Keeps Trying To Blow It Up:
The TurkStream pipeline, which brings natural gas from Russia to Türkiye across the Black Sea and then into southeastern Europe, was controversial in certain quarters of the West ever since it was conceived.
Now the flow of natural gas to Europe from Russia via Türkiye is reaching all-time highs. TurkStream has a capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year, roughly half of which stays in Türkiye, and the rest continues on to the Balkans and Central Europe. Serbia and Hungary are the primary European consumers. According to S&P Global, supplies via TurkStream into Southeast Europe rose strongly in July, reaching a record monthly high.
As the gas flowing through the pipeline increases so do the attempted attacks. The Russian Defense Ministry said that three unmanned Ukrainian speedboats carried out an unsuccessful attack against the Russian warship guarding a portion of the pipeline in May. When that failed, Ukraine apparently doubled down and tried again with six high-speed drone boats in June. That attack was also thwarted by Russian forces.
Ukraine Energy Minister German Galushchenko declared in a recent interview with POLITICO that Ukraine fully aims to attack Russia’s oil and gas infrastructure. The statements, while trying to show confidence, instead showed the increasing desperation of Ukraine and its Western backers in the face of the Russian victory on the battlefield, as well as on the economic front.
Ukrainian attacks on Russian energy infrastructure are nothing new. After all, if some Western media reports are to be believed, it was a small Ukrainian operation that took out the Nord Stream pipelines. But Galushchenko’s comments are a pretty clear indicator that these types of attacks will be among Ukraine’s last gasp tactics. From the POLITICO piece:
When asked if Zelenskyy’s “response” could include Ukraine targeting Russia’s vast oil and gas operations — by far the biggest driver of its economy — Galushchenko replied, “It would only be fair.”
“When answering [Russia’s attack], we would answer by taking the same approach, attacking their energy infrastructure,” Galushchenko said.
Galushchenko stressed he was not a member of the Ukraine military and did not discuss the possible targeting of Russian energy operations with U.S. government officials. He is a member of the Ukraine national security and defense council.
What of those US government officials? What do they think of this strategy? Do they condone the hitting of not just Russian infrastructure but also that of NATO member Türkiye in the case of TurkStream?
Moscow claimed that at the time of the unsuccessful Ukrainian attack in June, a US RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft was in that area of the Black Sea. Putin said at the October Valdai International Discussion Club meeting:
We continue to supply gas to Europe through the TurkStream pipelines, and judging by everything, Ukrainian terrorist groups are plotting to do damage there as well. Our ships are guarding the pipelines that run along the bottom of the Black Sea, but they are constantly being attacked by unmanned vehicles, with English-speaking specialists and advisers clearly involved, among others, in planning those attacks. We have intercepted them on the radio: we always hear English speech wherever those unmanned semi-submersible boats are being prepared. This is an obvious fact for us – but draw your own conclusions.
Russia also claimed in September and October of 2022 that it foiled attacks on Turkstream, but such these are routinely dismissed in the West. The Moscow Times, a western news outlet based in Amsterdam, believes Moscow is making such claims in order to lay the groundwork to blame Ukraine after Russia destroys its own pipelines – again.
Let’s not forget that after the destruction of the Nord Streams, former CIA director and perjurer extraordinaire was predicting that Russia would soon start destroying more of its other pipelines:
"Russia will attack other Russian pipelines soon" says John Brennan.
Translation: The US will blow up Turkstream. https://t.co/riSbbyhtg9
— Rosie's Indestructible Passport (@DarnelSugarfoo) October 3, 2022
The Center for European Policy Analysis believes Russia saying it thwarts attacks on TurkStream is really a subtle threat, writing, “This is most likely a stratagem to manipulate Europe on the eve of winter by underlining that it can cut supplies at any moment.”
An analysis more tethered to reality is from Fatih Yurtsever, a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces, who believes that Russia is highlighting the foiled attacks in an attempt to bring Türkiye closer to its side:
Russia is trying to get Türkiye’s support against Ukraine by claiming that its ships are in Türkiye’s EEZ to protect the TurkStream pipeline. In fact, Russia’s real intention is to create tension between Türkiye and Ukraine. To this end, it is trying to convince Türkiye that Ukraine will sabotage the TurkStream pipeline in the Turkish EEZ. Ukraine is not currently capable of sabotaging TurkStream, nor does it make sense for Ukraine to engage in such an act that would directly confront Türkiye.
Russia is attempting to capitalize on recent events, such as the intelligence ship attack, in order to drive a wedge between Türkiye and Ukraine while also seeking to align Türkiye more closely with its own interests.
NATO in the Black Sea?
Since the onset of the Ukraine war, Ankara has faced constant pressure to open the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits to NATO warships. On Nov. 17, the commander of the Turkish navy reiterated in a speech that Türkiye does not want NATO in the Black Sea:
As you know, NATO is trying to take some measures in the Black Sea. However, we declare that we will take these measures in the Black Sea ourselves and that we do not want NATO or America in the Black Sea. …
Our goal is for Montreux to be respected. We have provided security for everyone in the Black Sea. As Türkiye, we provide security in the Black Sea. They [the US] should not turn the Black Sea into a Middle East. That is why we do not want any country or NATO to enter the Black Sea.
Erdogan has so far resisted western pressure on the issue, but NATO might be gaining a toehold according to a Nov. 20 report in Bloomberg.
Citing anonymous officials, Bloomberg reports that NATO members Bulgaria, Türkiye, and Romania are closing in on an agreement to create a joint mine-clearing force in the Black Sea. Bloomberg goes to pains to describe the potential effort as peaceful and non-NATO:
The proposed plan would be peaceful in nature and focused on reducing the danger that errant mines pose to shipping routes through the Black Sea. It would not be considered a NATO effort. It would, however, be the first joint action of Black Sea allies since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.
Sounds innocent enough. But western neocons are clearly thinking of using Romania and any mine-sweeping as a NATO Trojan Horse in the Black Sea.
The mine-sweeping plan sounds very familiar to a recent piece at War on the Rocks by Aaron Stein, a Black Sea Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and former senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. The report is titled “Side-Stepping Türkiye: Using Minesweepers to Increase Allied Presence in the Black Sea” and here’s the central push:
Minesweeping ships are purely defensive and therefore would not be as risky as providing Black Sea powers with warships for the armed escort civilian ships in the area. This should assuage Ankara and be a point of potential cooperation, rather than yet another point of friction between Türkiye and its NATO allies. Once transferred and in Romania, these ships (and potentially clearance divers) could be used for a series of bilateral exercises between U.S. and European forces deployed in country, in neighboring countries, or flying over the Black Sea.
These bilateral exercises can augment NATO’s minesweeping capabilities and are a way to conduct exercises with NATO members without needing Türkiye’s official sanction. The obvious benefits of bilateral exercises have tangential benefits for NATO more broadly and could help augment NATO’s regional capabilities in the longer term. The data from these ships’ sensors should be fused with the aerial surveillance intelligence NATO and its member states collect during daily flights over the Black Sea. This data could be used to enhance situational awareness about threats to international shipping and be an important mechanism for the allies to share information about Russian Black Sea military operations currently and long into the future.
Romania has also discovered significant offshore gas reserves in the Black Sea, which it has begun to tap into. Neocons are stressing the fact that the Black Sea will have to be further militarized in order to protect these energy assets. From the Atlantic Council back in July:
In its summit communiqué this month, NATO acknowledged the Black Sea’s strategic value as well as Russia’s potential use of hybrid tactics to undermine regional allies and partners. NATO, with US leadership, must maintain a credible deterrent to Moscow’s actions in the Black Sea. At a minimum, the West must continue to support regional allies and partners by demonstrating solidarity against Russian aggression and promoting regional energy security through source diversification. This can only be accomplished through domestic energy production of both fossil fuels and renewables. More specifically, these actions need to be coupled with developing greater military operational capability through a combination of modern weapons acquisition and joint exercises. Romania has the potential to propel these efforts further with its Neptun Deep project; other NATO allies must follow suit by increasing their contributions to a credible deterrent.
Türkiye as Energy Hub
Türkiye has profited handsomely by refusing to go along with the West’s self-defeating sanctions on Russia and continues to operate as a primary hub for sanctions evasion. This is making Türkiye into a major regional fossil fuel hub as a crucial transfer point for energy to Europe. This arrangement allows Russia to continue (much reduced) exports to Europe and provides Türkiye with transfer fees and cheap oil and gas for domestic use. Putin and Erdogan have often discussed expanding Türkiye’s role as an energy hub, and while reports show disagreements remain, that also means Ankara and Moscow are continuing to iron out the details while working towards an agreement.
It also enrages the neocons. I think that Washington’s position can accurately be summed up by the following pieces. One is from the Atlantic Council: “Türkiye can become an energy hub—but not by going all-in on Russian gas.” The thinly-veiled threat concludes with the following:
Exploring phantom opportunities of energy cooperation with Russia at the expense of real risks of getting exposed to US and EU sanctions will not transform Türkiye into an energy hub. Quite the opposite, it would spell the end of this dream.
The other is Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute who writes that “Biden should kill TurkStream to promote transatlantic energy security.” And the transatlantic part of that energy security is of course the ultimate goal for Washington.
It’s worth remembering that TurkStream came about after the US and EU effectively killed the Russia-Bulgaria South Stream pipeline back in 2014. The project would have transported Russian gas under the Black Sea, making landfall in Bulgaria and then passing through Serbia and Hungary into Austria.
Instead Russia pivoted to Türkiye and opened TurkStream at the beginning of 2020 despite US sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the pipeline.
Additionally the US helped kill the EastMed Pipeline which would have brought natural gas from deposits off Israel and Egypt to Greece and elsewhere in Europe via Cyprus. US Undersecretary of State Victoria “F*** the EU” Nuland said at the time that it would take too long and the solution instead was increased LNG shipments to Europe.
Greece and countries in the Balkans that currently receive gas through TurkStream are increasingly building up their LNG import capacity. For example, Greece’s biggest gas utility recently completed a deal with Total Energies for LNG deliveries in the event gas flows from TurkStream are curbed or halted. And Greece received record LNG imports in 2022 allowing it to export more gas north to southeastern Europe.
Bulgaria Clogs the TurkStream Pipe
While the attempted attacks on the pipeline continue, the West’s preferred method to thwart gas deliveries through TurkStream appears to be using Bulgaria. The political drama swirling around TurkStream in Sofia and the potential loss of Russian oil and what that would mean for the Bulgarian economy has the government on the verge of collapse.
In October, Bulgaria added an extra tax of 10.20 euros per megawatt hour on Russian natural gas transferred through the Turkstream pipeline. This move angered Serbia and Hungary – probably the only two European countries that remain on friendly terms with Moscow. Hungary Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto described the move as another attempt to make Hungarian-Russian energy cooperation impossible.
“This is unacceptable. For one EU member state to jeopardize the gas supply of another EU member state is quite simply against European solidarity, against European rules,” he said.
At the end of October, the EU Commission announced that Bulgaria has every right to introduce the tax on Russian gas. Hungary has since asked the European Commission to open a legal procedure against Bulgaria over the tax, but the response has been crickets.
Sofia is moving forward with the tax plan despite knowing that Russia will not pay it. From Euractiv:
The authorities in Sofia have guaranteed that the money will be sought by Gazprom and not by the Russian gas monopoly’s European customers.
Bulgaria expected revenue from the new fee to be paid by mid-November, but the country has not yet been able to collect money from a Russian company…So far, there has been no reaction from Gazprom regarding the introduced energy contribution, and it is not clear whether the Russian concern intends to pay it.
It’s not hard to see how the situation could escalate from here. More:
Bulgarian Finance Minister Asen Vassilev has already said that if the Russian gas monopolist refuses to pay, the seizure of its financial collateral under contracts in Bulgaria or assets in the country will occur.
The move to jack up the price for Serbia and Hungary came after the Sofia City Prosecution launched investigations at the end of August into alleged corruption in the building of the Bulgarian portion of theTurkStream pipeline.
The probe is based on information revealed by the Anti-Corruption Fund NGO that allegedly shows that a secret meeting was held in Türkiye between Bulgarian, sanctioned Russians and UAE representatives to discuss specific actions and a timeframe for speeding up the construction of the gas pipeline.
The Anti-Corruption Fund NGO is funded by an US-outfit called the America for Bulgaria Foundation. Its board of directors has the usual experience – from Silicon Valley and global finance backgrounds, to US neocon think tanks and long careers at the US Department of State.
On the Russian oil front, Bulgaria now plans to scrap its exemption to EU sanctions against Russia six months earlier than planned. Despite that decision to move up the date to March 1, 2024, two of the three parties of the ruling coalition are still arguing it’s not enough. They want Russian oil stopped immediately, and they are accusing the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov of being pro-Russia (Denkov’s government maintains that cutting Russian oil right now could lead to Bulgaria not having enough fuel for the winter).
On top of the gas tax and scramble to halt Russian oil imports, the government is also planning to ban the export of petroleum products produced from Russian oil at a major Lukoil refinery in the country. The refinery’s management is threatening to shut down all operations if supplies from Russia are cut off too quickly, which would cost the jobs of thousands of people in the Black Sea region of Burgas.
While the energy politics have the government teetering on the brink of collapse, relations with Russia, Serbia and Hungary continue to sour.
“Budapest has made it clear right away that there is another pipeline – not Nord Stream, but South Stream, through which gas is supplied from Russia along the southern corridor to Türkiye, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary. Together with the Prime Minister of Serbia, we emphasized that if anyone wants to do the same thing with the southern corridor as was done with the northern one, we will consider it a reason for war, a terrorist attack, and we will respond immediately,” said the Hungarian Prime Minister.
Orban called for abandoning such plans, without revealing exactly to whom his warning was directed, specifying that it is not about the Russian Federation.
“Maybe you can do that with the Germans, but you can’t do that with this region,” he firmly stated.
It looks increasingly likely that Orbán’s words will be put to the test.
* * *