Opinion: Erdogan, Putin and the touchy Turkish Stream

The revival of the Turkish Stream pipeline project is expected to be the concrete outcome of the meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, August 9. The presidents will also recommit to the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power station, in Akkuyu, which is now severely behind schedule.

The main aim of this meeting, which was called at short notice, is to signal a thaw in relations between Russia and Turkey. In November 2015, there was a row over conflicting interests in Syria and the shooting down of a Russian bomber by Turkey’s air force. Putin and Erdogan will now be anxious to show their nations, the world and especially the European Union that their quarrel is over. They intend to send a message to Brussels, Berlin, Paris and, of course, Washington: We can be friends without you – and even against you.

The exchange of opinion and declarations of friendship will not be taking place on neutral terrain – on the fringe of a G20 meeting, for example. Erdogan, who apologized in June for the shooting down of the plane and the death of two airmen, will be meeting Putin in the city where the Russian president was born. This reinforces the impression that Putin has emerged from their short-lived conflict as the victor, both politically and economically. He wanted the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, and he’s going to get it.

But in what form? And at what price? This is where Erdogan could prove the victor. If the presidents decide to build only one pipeline along the route rather than two, it would be to Ankara’s advantage. Or to be precise: Moscow, and Gazprom in particular, would be at a disadvantage.

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(Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkish prime minister, meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin, in 2013. Photo: kremlin.ru)