- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ISTANBUL — “The new Silk Road,” “a vital East-West energy corridor,” “Europe’s second Rotterdam.”

There will be no shortage of plaudits when dignitaries from 50 countries meet on Turkey’s southern coast today to celebrate the official opening of the Baku (Azerbaijan)-Tbilisi (Georgia)-Ceyhan (Turkey) pipeline.

More than a decade and $4 billion in the making, the 1,100-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline will soon be pumping 1 million barrels per day of Caspian oil westward.

With Saudi Arabia’s daily exports reaching 9 million barrels per day, that may not seem much. But with prices soaring and energy supplies increasingly concentrated in the Persian Gulf and Russia, analysts say it brings the West vital diversity.

Eight more gas and oil pipelines are on the drawing board, and Turks see the pipeline as another selling point in Ankara’s campaign to shoehorn Turkey into a reluctant European Union.

Western Europe is intensely conscious of its dependence on Russia for gas since Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled gas monopoly, cut supplies to Ukraine and other countries last winter, says Yalim Eralp, a retired Turkish diplomat.

“By offering an alternative energy corridor, Turkey can both help Europe and increase its own attractiveness in European capitals.”

But as heads of state gird themselves for what may be a stormy, energy-obsessed Group of Eight summit in Russia this weekend, analysts fear the BTC pipeline’s strategic value may be less than its proponents claim.

Russian pipelines will continue to carry the majority of Caspian oil to the West. And more importantly, Turkey itself has turned to Moscow for more and more of its energy needs and now purchases 65 percent of its natural gas from its northern neighbor.

The BTC pipeline was built with staunch U.S. support to “create an East-West hub independent of Russia, tying Central Asia to the West,” said Bulent Aliriza, a Turkey specialist at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Now that it has been built, the irony is that the hub country is more dependent on Russia than before.”

Ankara-based energy specialist Necdet Pamir said that dependence has left Turkey — a vital NATO ally against the former Soviet Union — vulnerable to political pressure from Moscow.

Russia has already tried to persuade Turkey to waive standard procedures on bidding for energy contracts it is interested in, he said. More significantly, Moscow is eager to see Turkey carry Russian gas to Central Europe through Nabucco, a 1,860-mile pipeline project the EU hopes will run from Azerbaijan to Austria by 2011.

Given that the purpose of Nabucco is to provide Europe with a Caspian alternative to Russian gas, some analysts see Moscow’s suggestion as tantamount to sabotage.

Zeyno Baran, a Caspian and Turkish specialist at the Hudson Institute in Washington, insists Turkey is not deliberately favoring Russia over the West, but worries that Ankara’s juggling act could eventually lead to political problems with Washington.

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