Russia has lately been on a pipeline binge.
Obviously this involves already existing projects, but there have been recent developments, some of which are coming to a head. And energy is a long game anyway.
It initially neither occurred to me nor would have interested me to go looking for this.
Over time, though, I’ve seen more and more similar stories on the periphery of what I’ve been looking at in Syria. This post is one that I decided to spend a little time on to see what would happen.
And by a little time, I mean like 20 minutes. It took way longer to format this into WordPress than it did to find the stuff.
And things become pretty clear pretty quickly. Most of this is pretty self-explanatory.
Let’s check it out.
Carnegie Europe: Russia’s Gas Strategy Gets Help From Turkey
The Turkish Stream pipeline will make Ankara more energy dependent on Moscow. It will also give Russia a bigger energy foothold in Europe.
CNN: Russia switches on gas mega-pipeline to China as Putin touts closer ties
Hong Kong (CNN)Russia switched on an enormous gas pipeline to China worth billions of dollars Monday, affirming increasingly close economic and political ties between the two countries.
Reuters: Pakistan signs offshore pipeline agreement with Gazprom
ISLAMABAD, Feb 7 (Reuters) – Pakistan has signed a provisional agreement with Russian energy giant Gazprom on a feasibility study for an offshore pipeline that would supply natural gas from the Middle East to Pakistan and other parts of South Asia.
The memorandum of understanding is the latest in a series of energy-related agreements between Pakistan and Russia, former Cold War foes who have grown closer in recent years.
Reuters:The great Russian oil game in Iraqi Kurdistan
Now Sechin, one of the closest allies of President Vladimir Putin, said that given Baghdad’s reluctance to work with Rosneft, his firm would instead do business with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which showed “a higher interest in expanding strategic cooperation”.
Al-Jazeera: What did Russia get from its KRG gamble?
Energy giant Rosneft struck major deals with Iraq’s Kurdish region in 2017. Today, it has yet to cash in on them.
But when, in the early 2010s, Russian energy companies sent delegations to probe for potential oil deals, KRG’s western partners became nervous. According to a former Russian diplomat who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, the UK‘s foreign office, in particular, was worried.
In a 2012 conversation with him, British officials expressed their concern that the Russian companies’ entry into the Kurdish energy sector could stir trouble by giving the KRG political backing to go against the common consensus among the UK, US, Turkey and Iran that the Kurdish region should remain part of Iraq.
In 2012, Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom signed a contract for exploration and oil production in two blocks in the Kurdish region and just a year later KRG’s President Masoud Barzani went on a four-day visit to Moscow, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller.
Four years later, the fears of the British Foreign Office proved justified. A series of energy deals that another Russian state-owned energy company, Rosneft, concluded in 2017 with the debt–laden KRG, saved it from economic collapse and helped it gain enough political leverage to pursue an independence referendum on September 25 of that year, against the advice of all of its close allies, including the US and the UK.
Washington Post: Why the World Worries About Russia’s Natural Gas Pipeline
I like that one. “Pipeline.” singular. Nice job.
Russia also continues to try to block Iran proposed pipeline
Wikipedia: Iran–Iraq–Syria pipeline
The pipeline would be a competitor to the Nabucco pipeline from Azerbaijan to Europe.It is also an alternative to the Qatar–Turkey pipeline which had been proposed by Qatar to run from Qatar to Europe via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Syria’s rationale for rejecting the Qatar proposal was said to be “to protect the interests of [its] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas.”
The Pakistan deal is probably also a victory for Russia over Iran who had previously hoped for deal with Pakistan years ago, one that various other parties wanted to blocksuch as Saudi Arabia.
Wikipedia: Iran–Pakistan gas pipeline
In that vein.
Al-Monitor: Russia expands ties in Lebanon’s oil, gas sector
BEIRUT — During a Middle East tour last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo focused primarily on Iran’s influence in the region, but on Mar. 20 in Jerusalem he also labeled Russia an adversary of US regional allies in addition to Iran and China when speaking about energy and security in the eastern Mediterranean. “Revisionist powers like Iran and Russia and China are all trying to take major footholds in the East and in the West,” Pompeo said, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of Greece and Cyprus.
theNational: Russia looks to energy for a foothold in Lebanon
Rosneft’s foray into Lebanon’s energy market has raised questions over Russia’s political ambitions, write Jonathan Brown in Moscow and Sunniva Rose in Beirut
Russia’s recent purchase of an ageing oil storage centre in Lebanon is part of the Kremlin’s latest push to assert its influence across the region through energy deals with political overtones.
The Washington Institute: Russia’s Energy Goals in Syria
When Russia began its military intervention in Syria, it was motivated more by political incentives than economic ones. However, now that victory increasingly favors the Assad regime, Russia has found new opportunity to bolster its foothold in the region. With the opposition forces relatively subdued and prospects for stability appearing more realistic, Russian energy companies are looking to renew and expand their investments in the Syrian energy sector. But their aim is not to explore and extract Syria’s modest petroleum reserves—Russia has plenty. Rather, they seek to actively participate in rebuilding and operating Syrian oil and gas infrastructure. By undertaking such a massive endeavor, Russian energy companies hope to control significant portions of pipelines, liquefaction facilities, refineries, and terminals, thus capitalizing on Syria’s potential as a transit hub for regional oil and gas heading to Europe. In doing so, Russia will not only expand its dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean, a dream since the Caucasian Wars of the nineteenth century, but also solidify its stranglehold on the European gas supply.
That was written in August.
So here’s some analysis.
Defense News: Congress to target Russian pipeline in defense bill
HALIFAX, Canada ― Congress’s must-pass defense policy bill will be the vehicle to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s $11 billion project to deliver natural gas to Europe via a new pipeline from Russia to Germany, a top U.S. lawmaker revealed Friday.
Sanctions on companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline have been added to the draft 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch told Defense News on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum.
The inclusion of the sanctions in the bill is a strong sign, but House and Senate lawmakers have yet to reach a final deal on the massive bill.
“The reason for the push is that this window is closing. A lot of Nord Stream is done already,” said Risch, R-Idaho, adding he believes the sanctions will persuade the construction firms involved to stop work on the project.
“It will cost them dearly. I think if those sanctions pass [the companies] will shut down, and I think the Russians will have to look for another way to do this, if they can do this,” Risch said.
Russia’s Gas Web Ensnares Europe
New pipeline projects throughout the Middle East could boost Russian influence there while also ensuring the country’s role as the prime supplier of energy to Europe.
As Washington readies itself for a diminished role in the Middle East, Moscow is laying the groundwork for a significant long-term presence. By acquiring pipelines and exploration rights in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, Russia is building a land bridge to Europe through the
Middle East. In doing so, it will cement its role as Europe’s primary gas supplier and expand its influence in the Middle East, posing serious risks to U.S. and European interests.
Russia already supplies 35 percent of Europe’s total gas imports, and it has long worked to head off any European efforts to diversify energy supplies. Here, Russia also has to worry about its abysmal relations with Ukraine—the conduit for most of its Europe-bound exports. Building an energy transit network through the Middle East would allow Moscow to stay in the game.
The three pipelines will make Europe even more dependent on Russian gas while also driving deeper the wedge between the United States and the European Union.
In this new network, Turkey is one of the most important transit points. The Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom already operates the Blue Stream pipeline, which handles approximately 16 percent of Moscow’s gas exports to Europe, via Turkey and Bulgaria. Now, a second pipeline, TurkStream, is expected to come online before the end of this year. It will transport approximately 14 percent of Moscow’s gas exports to Europe, via Turkey and Greece. These two pipelines come on top of Nord Stream 2, and together, all three will make Europe even more dependent on Russian gas while also driving deeper the wedge between the United States and the European Union over Russia’s use of energy infrastructure as a political weapon. Together, the three pipelines will be more than enough to replace exports that make their way to Europe through Ukraine.
Another leg of the new network will run through Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region before connecting to Turkey’s pipeline network for further export to Europe. In September 2017—days before the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held an ill-fated referendum on independence—the Russian state-owned energy company Rosneft inked an agreement with the KRG to fund a $1 billion gas pipeline from Kurdistan to Turkey. The pipeline is expected to be able to meet approximately 6 percent of Europe’s yearly gas demand. And then, in October 2017, Rosneft took a controlling interest in an existing KRG oil pipeline to Turkey for $1.8 billion. That pipeline has been at the heart of strained relations between Iraq’s central government and the KRG since 2013, when Erbil began unilaterally exporting oil to Turkey through the pipeline, a move Baghdad criticized as a major constitutional violation.
Russia has leveraged the tense relationship between Baghdad and Erbil to reap the most lucrative contracts possible. In the aftermath of Russia’s expansion into Kurdistan’s energy sector, Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, sent a letter to the Iraqi central government stating that since Baghdad had showed a “lack of constructive position and interest” to work with Rosneft, his firm had no choice but to do business with the KRG, which had demonstrated “a higher interest in expanding strategic cooperation.”
The gambit worked: Baghdad, seeking to peel Moscow away from Erbil, opened negotiations with Rosneft to tender construction of a new oil pipeline from the Kirkuk oil fields to the Turkish border, avoiding KRG territory. The new pipeline would replace a previous one that was destroyed during Iraq’s war with the Islamic State.
In Syria, meanwhile, Russia won the exclusive right to produce the country’s oil and gas in January 2017. On paper, that doesn’t amount to much: Syria’s proven oil reserves stand at 2.5 billion barrels (roughly 0.2 percent of the global share), and its proven natural gas reserves are insufficient to meet even domestic consumption. But Syria’s main value to Moscow, like Turkey, lies in its location as a transport hub for exports.
In Syria, meanwhile, Russia won the exclusive right to produce the country’s oil and gas in January 2017.
Russian oil machinations in Syria started well before the Kremlin’s 2015 military intervention. In 2009, Qatar proposed the construction of a pipeline to send gas from the massive South Pars/North Dome field (which it shares with Iran) via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. At Russia’s behest, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refused to sign the plan, since Russia fearedthat the deal would diminish its own role in Europe’s natural gas market. As an alternative, Russia reportedly gave its approval to the construction of the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline under the assumption that it would have an easier time dealing with Iran than with Qatar.
The ensuing revolution placed those plans on hold, but Russian activity is likely to increase as Syria turns to reconstruction. Assad has already stated that reconstruction will likely cost between $200 billion to $500 billion, with first priority in all contracts going to Moscow. With the Trump administration deciding to leave Syria as Russia remains firmly ensconced there, any energy infrastructure projects that transit through Syria will need Moscow’s approval. Indeed, Russia is already poised to reap major rewards as the United States abandons Syria’s largest oil field with its withdrawal.
Moscow’s involvement in Lebanon has a Syria angle as well. Russia has deepened commercial ties with Lebanon as part of its efforts to roll back U.S. influence in the region, with trade between Russia and Lebanon nearly doubling from $423 million in 2016 to $800 million in 2018. Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas sector has also favored Russian companies. The Russian firm Novatek won a 20 percent stake in two offshore exploration blocks last year. More blocks are expected to be auctioned this year.
But Russia’s primary interest in Lebanon is as a conduit to Syria. In January, Rosneft signed a 20-year agreement for managing and upgrading an oil storage facility in Tripoli, Lebanon, which lies just 18 miles from the Syrian border and is 37 miles from the Russian-controlled Syrian port of Tartus, Moscow’s only foothold on the Mediterranean Sea. The deal’s value has been kept secret, but the facility’s proximity to Syria could allow Moscow to use it for covert fuel deliveries to the Assad regime—an activity U.S. Treasury sanctions have sought to thwart.
None of this is to say that Moscow’s energy land bridge is an imminent reality. Syria’s reconstruction remains several years away, and the country’s value as an energy hub will be worthless as long as it is under crippling U.S. sanctions. Turkey and Iraq hold the most immediate promise for Moscow’s energy ambitions, while Russian involvement in Lebanon and Syria demonstrates that Moscow is digging in for the long game in order to secure and expand its energy monopoly over Europe.
If Russia succeeds in its plans, the implications for European security will be profound.
But if Russia succeeds in its plans, the implications for European security will be profound. A Europe even more dependent on Russian gas will lose significant leverage over the Kremlin, constraining its ability to punish the country for transgressions like the killing of Russian defectors on European soil. There would be little to prevent Putin from turning off the gas taps to Europe, as he has in the past, should political squabbles arise. With Europe’s energy demands projected to increase, European countries risk entering a vassal-like relationship with Moscow.
Russia’s plans could also diminish influence in a region where Washington has historically been the prime security guarantor. As Washington is disengaging from the Middle East, Moscow is doing the opposite, using energy projects to buy clout with regional governments. Russia already supports a rogues’ gallery of dictators across the region, including Assad, Libya’s Khalifa Haftar, and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Moscow’s political backing for dictatorial, anti-American regimes will intensify as it builds up its regional presence. Moreover, Russia is not likely to share U.S. concernsabout proliferation and human rights violations when selling lethal drones and other advanced weaponry to Middle Eastern states.
Pushing back against Russian machinations could prove difficult. Although Cyprus and Israel, staunch U.S. allies, both have significant amounts of proven gas reserves, neither can realistically supply Europe at this point. Development of Cyprus’s offshore sector is hobbled by long-standing conflictwith Turkey. Meanwhile, an overland pipeline from Israel to Europe would have to go through Lebanon and Syria, which is impossible, while an underwater pipeline would have to go through Cypriot territorial waters, which would stoke tensions with Turkey. The long-proposed EastMed pipeline, which would export Israeli and Cypriot natural gas directly to Europe via Greece, would take up to seven years to build and poses a significant engineering challenge, as the pipeline would have to be laid in extremely deep waters. Given that most of the region’s current gas discoveries will go toward meeting Middle Eastern demand, further discoveries of natural gas are essential to feed exports to Europe.
Washington is not completely without options, however. The United States could seek to develop alternate gas export routes into Europe by financing the construction of strategic gas import infrastructure on favorable terms in key European markets, including offshore liquified natural gas (LNG) regasification units. These could also serve as a partial—and more flexible—solution to the logistical challenge of exporting natural gas from Israel and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. This approach would allow spare gas produced in Israel that is not already committed for export under long-term contracts to be sold to Europe on the more flexible spot market. Such a system would obviate the need to construct more capital-intensive underwater pipeline projects that require financing supported by long-term gas purchase agreements.
Washington could help finance such projects in return for reciprocal commitments from the involved countries to liberalize their gas market regulations, potentially including by unbundling their production and transmission infrastructure, as well as granting third parties equal, nondiscriminatory access to pipeline capacity. This approach would provide space for additional imports that are more competitive with Russia while allowing gas to move freely within the continent from the lowest-cost providers to the greatest demand centers.
Washington could supplement its approach with commitments to facilitate the export of U.S. LNG to Europe, if Moscow were to weaponize its gas exports and turn the taps off. Given that U.S. LNG is currently more expensive than Russian gas for Europe, Washington could subsidize its exports from private producers to Europe as a means to maintain supply and price stability.
Although the current political climate in the United States makes additional financial support to Europe challenging, it is not altogether impossible. U.S. President Donald Trump has signaled that exporting gas to Europe is a priority, and the administration should work with European partners to operationalize that goal and thwart Moscow’s Middle East energy land bridge. Europe’s energy security and America’s influence in the Middle East are too important to cede to Russia.
Varsha Koduvayur is a senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where she focuses on the Persian Gulf. Twitter: @varshakoduvayur
Greg Everett is a corporate lawyer with significant experience in the energy industry. Twitter: @Greg_Everett
The US has some limited plans to counter Russia with a pipeline in the Middle East.
They appear to be a feeble attempt, though, and widely recognized as US-Russia posturing.
Euractiv: US-Russia rivalry in the Middle East is now spilling over into the Mediterranean Sea
Most oil and gas experts agree that the East Med Pipeline Project is a pipe dream that cannot compete with cheap Russian gas. But America’s enthusiastic support for it is more about a re-alignment of alliances, and securing energy supply, writes Nour Samaha.
Even if the US response is considered feeble, though, the concerns appear to be real.
Wikipedia: Qatar–Turkey pipeline
The Qatar-Turkey pipeline was a proposal to build a natural gas pipeline from the Iranian–Qatari South Pars/North Dome Gas-Condensate field towards Turkey, where it could connect with the Nabucco pipeline to supply European customers as well as Turkey. One route to Turkey was via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria, and another was through Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. Syria’s rationale for rejecting the Qatar proposal was said to be “to protect the interests of [its] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas.”
TurkStream (Turkish: TürkAkım or Türk Akımı, Russian: Турецкий поток) is a natural gas pipeline running from the Russian Federation to Turkey. It runs from Russkaya compressor station near Anapa in Russia’s Krasnodar Region, crossing the Black Sea and ending at Kıyıköy on the Turkish Thrace coast, where it connects to other pipelines. TurkStream replaced the cancelled South Stream project.
Following the shootdown of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey in November 2015, the project was temporarily halted. However, Russia–Turkey relations were restored in summer 2016 and the intergovernmental agreement for TurkStream was signed in October 2016. Construction started in May 2017 and was completed in November 2018.
Foreign Policy: Russia’s Pipe Dreams Are Europe’s Nightmare
Putin’s plans to run the TurkStream pipeline through the Balkans won’t end well.
In the ongoing showdown between Russia and the West, Russia has a trump card: natural gas exports. Despite chilly relations, in 2018, gas shipments from Russia to Europe and Turkey hit an all-time high of 201.8 billion cubic meters (bcm). And even as the EU sticks to its guns on Russia sanctions, many of its members happily press ahead with their pet energy projects. Germany, for example, continues to back the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bring natural gas from Russia to the north German coast.
Euractiv: How a gas pipeline to Europe is transforming the Turkish-Israeli relationship
The discovery of massive natural gas fields off Israel’s northern coast more than a decade ago and subsequent attempts to export this gas to Europe have highlighted the true fault lines in the Turkish-Israeli alliance, writes Joseph Dana.
Ahval: How will TANAP pipeline affect Turkey’s energy security?
There has been much talk of Turkey turning from a mere consumer to a big-league player when it comes to natural gas. With the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) carrying gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas fields through Georgia and Turkey to Europe now fully operational, this ambition is inching closer to becoming a reality.
Christian Broadcasting Network: Turkey Just Made a Secret Deal With Libya – Now Erdogan is Trying to Conquer the Mediterranean
JERUSALEM, Israel – While Turkey continues its invasion into northeast Syria, the country is now taking aim at the Mediterranean Sea.
Euractiv: Turkey and Azerbaijan mark completion of TANAP pipeline to take gas to Europe
Turkey and Azerbaijan formally marked the completion of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) on Saturday (30 November), a milestone in a major project to help reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
Reuters: Russia’s Putin accuses Bulgaria of holding up TurkStream pipeline
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Bulgaria on Wednesday of deliberately delaying the building of Russia’s TurkStream natural gas pipeline on its territory and said Moscow could find ways to bypass Sofia if needed.
Al-Monitor: Turkey-Libya agreement shakes up eastern Mediterranean
Ahead of this week’s NATO summit in London, fresh developments in the eastern Mediterranean Sea will likely add to a long list of tensions between Turkey and allied nations as the bloc celebrates its 70th anniversary.
On Nov. 27, Ankara signed an agreement with Libya’s internationally recognized government denoting new maritime boundaries between the two nations. The area spanning from southwest Turkey to northeast Libya cuts across a zone currently claimed by Greece and Cyprus, where plans for a future gas pipeline are in the works to link eastern Mediterranean gas fields with European markets.
The agreement comes as Turkish ships continue gas exploration and drilling activities within Cyprus’ territorial waters, actions Ankara claims are necessary to ensure gas revenues are shared between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized solely by Turkey. The latest move further escalates tensions between the nations, which hold conflicting claims over the development of eastern Mediterranean energy resources.
World Bank: Russia Economic Report
Russia’s export diversification has been progressing, but only slowly. Driven largely by higher oil prices, in 2018, energy exports accounted for 65 percent of total exports (compared to 59 percent in the previous year). In comparison to other regional oil exporters, Russia has also seen lower numbers of new export lines in the past four years.
New trade agreements of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), such as with Serbia, Singapore and Iran, could expand Russia’s export opportunities.
So I think it’s fair to say that a big piece of the picture of Russia’s involvement in the wars in Syria is coming into focus.