Sunday, 23 November 2014

Answers to Some Questions: Energy Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean

Why is Turkey not doing more to fight ISIS ?

Turkey under Erdogan has a neo-Ottoman strategy and so is more concerned with Assad remaining in power than it is with ISIS. Erdogan fear Kurdish irredentism as a force in northern Syria spilling over into southern Turkey as well as the fact Assad poses as an ally of the Azeris in its northern neighbour. Erdogan is fixated on Assad being overthrown not merely because he is portrayed as a threat to Turkey ( Syria having also had expedient ties across the borders with the PKK as far back as the 1980s during the Cold War ). The collapse of the Baathist dictatorship also presented the opportunity to back the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and those forces which would back a Qatar-Turkey pipeline which would assist in recreating Turkey as a regional power and east-west energy transit hub.

The west backs that vision as the EU states want to reduce dependency upon Russian gas,  especially in the light of the Ukrainian crisis and the war in the east of that country. In fact, the instability in Ukraine has all the more raised the stakes in Syria for Turkey which at all costs wants Assad to be deposed no matter the threat of ISIS which it sees as a lesser problem than the Syrian leader and Iran's rival bid for regional influence in the Levant in potential alliance with Russia. Putin backs Assad because it has had he right to explore its Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves since December 2013 , much to the outrage of Sunni rebel oppositionists. Turkey, however,  has to tread carefully with Russia, however, as it supplies a lot of Turkey's gas and holds a potentially decisive role in the Eastern Mediterranean in regards to backing the gas pipeline routes from Israel either towards Turkey or via Cyprus ( by-passing Turkey altogether ).

Is the Cyprus Conflict going to be resolved ?

The Cyprus conflict was on course for being resolved but the potential for conflict has been rekindled since 2010 with the discovery of huge reserves of gas off the Cypriot coast ( the Aphrodite field ). Turkey under Erdogan fancies itself as a neo-Ottoman regional power and east-west energy transit hub. So it is set to quarrel over Greek Cypriot claims and even threatened naval action to prevent it. One reason is Israel is looking towards Cyprus as the route to export its gas westwards in a move that would by-pass Turkey completely. So these new geopolitical rivalries are cutting across the old Cold War alliances and it explains why Turkey has been so critical of Israel over Gaza and why it has sought to depose Assad in Syria: the stakes are a lucrative gas pipeline connecting the Persian Gulf and Qatar's gas directly with the Eastern Mediterranean and hence EU markets.

But don't the discovery of oil and gas reserves also increase the potential benefits of co-operation ?

While energy interests can bind nations together, there is always the potential for them to lead to intractable conflicts where they are bound up with unresolved ethnic enmities. These are clear across all those areas now in the throes of conflict from Syria to Iraq and those in danger from being affected by the spill over of these wars such as Lebanon and. maybe, even Cyprus. These ethnic and sectarian tensions were sharpened by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War One, kept at bay by the creation of secular dictatorships which have now collapsed and so led to a resurgence of older hostilities and renewed geopolitical rivalries that go back to the age of empires before 1914.

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