The announcement of the discovery of a natural gas reservoir in the depths of the Black Sea by Turkey on October 17, 2020, proved the economic importance of the Black Sea for Turkey and entered a new phase in the geopolitical rivalry between coastal countries and the world powers. In this regard, the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen its military presence in the Black Sea and Russia’s reaction to Turkish exploration can be assessed. The unresolved issue of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the continuing insecurity on Ukraine’s eastern borders have long turned the Black Sea basin into a potential geography for global and peripheral powers to compete. But Turkey’s efforts to extract gas from the depths of the sea will give a new dimension to the competition.
Russia’s strategic rivalry with NATO in the Black Sea
Russia reacted sharply to recognition of the autonomy of Georgia’s two northern provinces in 2008 when NATO announced its intention to include Ukraine and Georgia in the alliance. In 2014, tensions reached a tipping point with the annexation of Crimea by Ukraine to Russia. The United States and the European Union imposed economic sanctions during the Obama Administration in order to push Russia back, yet proven unsuccessful. During Trump’s presidency, Putin was able to take advantage of his reluctance to travel to and from in remote areas and expand Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Undoubtedly, from Russia‘s point of view, the Black Sea is of strategic and vital importance for maintaining its global power and influence, and it is by no means willing to be negligent in this area.
On the other hand, the USA the Biden administration is again trying to make Russia go through a siege policy and limit their influence. In this regard, the United States, while strengthening its support for Ukraine, is also putting pressure on Erdogan-led Turkey to maintain its distance from Russia.
From the perspective of the Western world, the Black Sea is so important that it should not be left to Turkey and Russia. As the American think tank Rand points out in a report entitled Russia, NATO and the Security of the Black Sea, the rivalry between Russia and the West will determine the future of Europe. Western strategists believe that maintaining USA`s global role requires maintaining strategic ties between Washington and Brussels and that the USA cannot leave Europe alone against Russia, despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal.
The importance of energy in Black Sea issues
In terms of energy transfer, the Black Sea and the Bosphorus and Dardanelles are of particular importance. About half of the 40,000 ships passing through the Turkish Straits carry crude oil and liquefied natural gas. Annually, more than 200 million tons of crude oil reach the consumer markets via the Black Sea. These figures show the economic importance of the Black Sea, which is connected to the Sea of Marmara and then to the Mediterranean by geese. The Black Sea region is the transit route for oil and gas from Russia and other Caspian littoral states to Europe and Africa. In addition, the Black Sea has been introduced to the global energy market due to its potential in the underlying fields. With human access to new technologies in drilling and gas fields under the seas and oceans, a competition was created between the countries adjacent to the Black Sea in this direction. The lack of disagreement among the Black Sea littoral states in determining maritime areas further led to the drilling and exploration of energy resources by some of these countries, including Turkey. As a result of these drilling operations, the Romanian government announced a 40-80 billion cubic meter gas field in 2012. Subsequently, in 2020, the Turkish government discovered a gas field called Tuna 1, which it estimates Contains 405 billion cubic meters of natural gas.
Exploration of Turkey in the Black Sea
Turkey, after Russia, is the most powerful country in the Black Sea basin, although it imports a large part of its oil and gas consumption. Turkey’s average daily crude oil consumption is estimated at 1 million barrels. This figure is about 45 billion cubic meters for natural gas. Turkey has to import 99% of its gas. Hence, exploring the gas reservoir under the Black Sea bed is extremely important for this country. Turkey is trying to get the gas discovered in the Black Sea ready for consumption by 2023, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of establishing the Republic in Anatolia, reducing its energy dependence. Therefore, it can be said that this exploration means acquiring modern technology in drilling and deep-sea exploration, which is very important for Turkey.
In conclusion, for a long time, the Black Sea has been important for Turkey in terms of maritime transit, mainly the export of agricultural products (fruits and vegetables) to Russia and neighboring countries, fishing, and logistics. Furthermore, the discovery of the Tuna 1 (estimated 405 billion cubic meters) and Sakarya (estimated 135 billion cubic meters) gas fields deep in the Black Sea in 2020 conferred a new dimension to this importance. Because if Turkey can extract 540 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves explored in the Black Sea, its dependence on energy imports from Russia and the Republic of Azerbaijan will be reduced. Reducing reliance on energy imports will improve the country’s economic situation and have political and strategic consequences. If this happens, not only will Turkey’s relations with the West change, but it will also redirect the triangle of competition, cooperation, and tension between Ankara and Moscow. Indeed, Turkey’s exploitation of Black Sea energy by strengthening its position globally makes it challenging to keep Ankara within the NATO bloc and complicates its bilateral relations with Russia. Consequently, the geo-economic and geostrategic importance of the Black Sea in world politics will increase significantly in the upcoming years.
Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MEPEI. Any content provided by our authors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
About the author:
Amin Bagheri is a Research Fellow at the International Studies Association in Tehran. His primary research interest lies in international relations, transnational governance, international peace, and conflicts in the Middle East.