The vice-president highlighted an unheralded goal of US foreign policy when he took a shot at Russia
Dick Cheney, the US vice-president who famously peppered a 78-year-old lawyer in a quail hunting accident, shot wildly again last week.
This time, as well as hitting a supposed friend, Russia, he shot himself in the foot as he denounced Russia’s geo-political use of its oil and gas reserves as “tools of intimidation and blackmail”.
He highlighted, in doing so, a relatively unheralded goal of US foreign policy: to turn Turkey into a conduit for energy supplies that bypass the control of President Putin and the majority state-owned Russian gas giant Gazprom.
It is a role Turkey, already a Nato member, is embracing, albeit with considerable anxiety and hesitation. It dovetails with Turkey’s ambition to become the first predominantly Islamic country to be a full EU member. The Europeans, frightened off by Russia’s abrupt closure of gas supplies to Ukraine earlier this year, are seeking to reduce their dependence on Gazprom, which already supplies a quarter of the EU’s natural gas.
This is one of two overriding reasons why Turks see their country as an indispensable asset for Europe, its potential as a transit country for energy supplies between central Asia, a growing rival to Russia, and the EU. The other is its young population, which can help to provide solutions to Europe’s ageing crisis.
Since the days of Kamal Ataturk, founder of the modern republic, Turkey, politicians and academics as well as business leaders say, has always been a bridge between Europe and Asia. It can meet the EU’s need for greater security and diversity of energy supplies with a string of planned and actual pipelines forming a modern-day Silk Road. Only just embarking on plans to build its first nuclear power plants, Turkey wants to act as a corridor for oil and gas supplies – for itself as well as the EU.
There are nine current and planned gas pipelines, including Blue Stream, the $3.4bn (£1.8bn) network operated by Russia’s Gazprom and Italy’s ENI that runs for 400km along the bottom of the Black Sea. Another, much favoured by the European commission, is the Nabucco project costing $4.4bn and managed by Austria’s OMV. This one passes gas from central Asia – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan – to central Europe.
There are the same number of oil pipelines, including the $3bn BTC line from Baku to Ceyhan in Turkey, spearheaded by BP, which runs for 1,100 miles underground and will be formally opened in Ceyhan in July. This project, first endorsed by the former US president Bill Clinton, is the pet project of the US state department in its renewed power struggle, in both senses, with the Kremlin. US special forces have trained 2,000 Georgian soldiers in anti-terrorist techniques to protect the pipeline, a target if America ever engaged militarily with Iran, from saboteurs.
It is estimated that Turkey will carry 200bn barrels of crude oil and 18 trillion cubic metres of natural gas just from the Caspian to Europe and other markets. Agata Loskot, of Warsaw’s Centre for Eastern Studies, says the country can also become a corridor for bringing oil and gas from Iraq (if the Kurdish issue can be resolved peacefully) and other parts of the Middle East, with a (readily sabotaged) pipeline already running from Kirkuk to Ceyhan.
Yalim Eralp, an ex-ambassador now working for CNN Türk, says: “This (the scramble for energy) is the new great game between China, Russia and the US – and we have chosen the EU, helping it to reduce its dependence on Russia.” The US is determined, in this game, to push Russia into supplying its eastern neighbours, not Europe.
Turkey’s population, meanwhile, is expected to peak at 85 million by 2030, as the urban population increases and families get smaller. Many Turkish experts dismiss European fears that EU entry will trigger an unmanageable influx of young, job and wealth-seeking Turks; they prefer to see them as a source of potentially skilled labour for a continent running out of youth (and steam).
Damla Zeynep Gürel, an opposition MP, says: “If we can increase our GDP and improve our democratic standards, I don’t think people will go to Europe – unless they are invited.” Business leaders detect a trend to homecoming by Turkish “Gastarbeiter” from Germany and elsewhere – and increasing investment from overseas Turks in their native country. Cem Duna of Tusiad, the Turkish CBI, says: “In 10 years Europe will need the dynamism of the Turkish economy, but my nightmare scenario is a successful conclusion to the accession talks – and popular rejection in national referenda.”
writes David Gow