Less than a month after making progress on the Nabucco pipeline deal, which has now secured half of the gas needed to fill it, Turkey signed another natural gas agreement in early August that will allow access into Turkish territorial waters to the South Stream pipeline. South Stream, a Russian-Italian venture, is designed to bring Russian gas to Bulgaria while bypassing troublesome transit countries on the route between the Russian Federation and the European Union. A few days later, Turkey also held discussions with the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, on pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, as well as with Syrian Petroleum Minister Sufian Al-Allao on network interconnections that may carry Egyptian natural gas to Turkey.
The agreements reveal Turkey's bold strategy in gas diplomacy, particularly its determination to receive as much gas as possible regardless of the source. Part of this dash to gas is surely justifiable by growing domestic needs. Turkish consumption witnessed a tenfold increase between 1990 and 2006, boosted by 4.5 percent average annual GDP growth. An aggressive process of gasification of the country's energy supply, led by state-owned giant BOTAS, also contributed to the increase.
However, Turkey's aggressive pursuit of gas supplies can not be fully explained by domestic demand. Rather, it is clear that Turkey nurtures ambitions of becoming a gas-hub, exploiting its geographical position to take full political advantage of the regional gas-trading system. The details of the South Stream agreements are quite straightforward in this respect, with the establishment of a consortium to build a new pipeline across the Anatolian Peninsula from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean for future trans-shipments to Cyprus and Israel. Further, Russia will provide assistance for the construction of nuclear plants that will reduce Turkey's need for gas and increase its capacity to re-export.