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Is the Goal of the Russia-Ukraine War to By-Pass Ukraine from Energy Geopolitics?

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The process that started with the Russia-Ukraine War shows that energy security will be the most fundamental issue that will guide the foreign policies of states in the coming periods. Especially after the Russia-Ukraine War, the support given by the Western states to Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia in this context, brought the message that the Moscow administration, which predicted that it could face such a problem for many years and was preparing for it, could use the energy card when necessary. This brought the importance of energy as a weapon to the agenda.

In fact, the conversion of energy into a weapon and the use of this weapon is not a new phenomenon. As a matter of fact, in the Energy Concept adopted by the Moscow administration in 2003, “Russia has significant reserves of energy resources and a powerful fuel and energy complex, which is the basis of the development of the economy and is a tool for implementing domestic and foreign policy.” sentence is included. Thus, Russia, which has an active position in the global energy market, has declared to the whole world that the energy factor can be used as a hybrid tool or a foreign policy tool.

One of the practices of the Russian side of using energy as a hybrid vehicle was experienced in 2006, the tensest period of Georgian-Russian relations. Although Russia stated that it had solved the problems in a project involving Georgia in the period, the Tbilisi administration was making harsh statements towards Moscow. In return, the gas supply to the Georgian Embassy in Moscow was cut off by Russia. This event, which took place only in the embassy, ​​has revealed that the Kremlin administration can use the energy factor as a tool of both political and economic pressure.

In fact, Russia has made similar moves against Ukraine in the past. For example, in 1993, the Moscow administration cut the gas supply to Ukraine by 25%. According to the official statement, although the reason for the interruption is unpaid bills, it cannot be interpreted as a coincidence that the interruption coincides with the bilateral meeting to be held just one week before the delivery of nuclear weapons and the ultimatum given to Russia about the Black Sea Fleet. In 1995, Moscow increased the gas export price to persuade Kiev to join the CIS Customs Union. In 2006, 2009 and 2015, gas cuts were made to Ukraine in the middle of winter due to the transportation fee, gas price and unpaid bills with Ukraine. This has also brought about power outages in the country.

On the other hand, the issue is not just about gas. As a matter of fact, in 2014, the Moscow administration targeted the coal mines while supporting the pro-Russian separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine, and this caused fractures in Ukraine’s national energy system.

As of February 24, 2022, nuclear power plants have come to the fore among the places under the control of the Russian Army. The conflicts in and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which came to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on August 11, 2022, occupied the international public opinion. In other words, the Russia-Ukraine War is not only by the use of military methods; it also witnesses the moves made on the energy card.

Moreover, one of the reasons for the Russia-Ukraine War is energy, although it is not mentioned much. Because Ukraine’s transit role in the process of transporting Russian gas to the EU, which enables it to establish close relations with the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the proximity of underground storages with a capacity of 32 bcm/year to the EU have become a disturbing issue for Moscow over time. Because, on the occasion of the war, Moscow is trying to bypass Ukraine from energy geopolitics.

Since the mid-1990s, Russia has been 90% dependent on gas sales to Europe at the level of 150-160 bcm per year, has a total carrying capacity of 132 billion m3 (bcm) alone and reaches Europe via Ukraine-Slovakia. (Brotherhood), Soyuz (total capacity of 26 bcm) and Northern Lights (total capacity of 51 bcm), three transit pipeline systems with a gas carrying capacity of approximately 210 bcm per year are developing projects to bypass Ukraine, the critical transit country.

In fact, Russia, in the period of Viktor Chernomyrdin (1992-1998), initiated an operation with the team led by Rem Vyakhirev, the President of Gazprom at the time, primarily to liquidate the engineers/employees of Ukrainian origin within Gazprom. Then, approximately 70 bcm of gas to be produced from 11 trillion m3 (tcm) reserves in the Yamal region is sent to Europe via a non-Ukrainian route (Belarus-Poland-Germany); more precisely, YAMAL-I and YAMAL-II pipelines, which will extend to Austria via Slovakia, have been developed for transport to Germany, the EU member, which is the largest Russian gas consumer. Yamal I and II are each designed to carry 33 bcm of gas per year.

YAMAL-I, with a length of 2000 km, was commissioned under the name YAMAL-Europe in 2002 and Russian gas began to be delivered to Germany. However, while Ukraine and Poland were in competition with the Baku-Tbilisi Ceyhan (oil) and Turkmen (gas) Pipeline projects, the two most important projects of the “East-West Energy Corridor” developed by Türkiye and the USA at that time; when Moscow developed a new project that threatens Russia in the 35 million-ton Baltic-Black Sea oil market in order to transport Caucasian oil to the Baltic Sea via the Odessa-Brody-Gdansk Oil Pipeline, Moscow personally supported the Belarus-Poland route against the Poland-Germany route. It chose to undermine the project by not allowing the construction of the YAMAL-II Line, which will follow the Slovakia-Austria route.

In a sense, Russia, tired of Ukraine’s moves, brought the YAMAL-II Line back to the agenda together with Poland in August 2013; however, it has completely removed the second line from its plans as there is no trust left in both countries. The Odessa-Brody Line, which was left to rot for years, was started to be used in reverse by the Russians, this time only as Brody-Odessa, about four years after its end, to deliver Kazakh and Russian oil to the world markets via the Black Sea. However, Russia’s dependence on transit gas transportation to Ukraine has not ended. In this context, Moscow, which has set its mind to bypass Ukraine, has targeted the Kyiv administration with the desire to have a monopoly in meeting the European gas needs. Because in 2005-2006 and 2008-2009, Russia fought against Ukraine for natural gas and in this process internalized the idea that the country in question should be bypassed.

As a result, Russia, using energy as an important weapon, while holding this trump card, both wants to have a monopoly and seeks ways to eliminate its dependence on other states. Ukraine is at the forefront of the actors that Moscow wants to bypass in the energy context. Therefore, although the goal of bypassing Ukraine is not the only reason for the Russia-Ukraine War, it is one of the most important reasons.

Dr. Cenk PALA
Dr. Cenk Pala, Avrasya doğalgaz boru hattı işinde engin endüstri deneyimi ile hem Türkiye enerji güvenliği hem de Güney Enerji Koridoru tartışmalarında her bakımdan önde gelen bir isimdir. Kariyerine 1990-1997 yılları arasında Gazi Üniversitesi'nde Ekonomi Tarihi ve petrol & enerji ekonomisi alanlarında akademisyen olarak başlayan Pala, 1997 yılında Türkiye'nin BOTAŞ Petrol A.Ş. bünyesine katılmış, 2001 yılı itibari ile şirkette Strateji ve İş Geliştirme Başkanı olarak atanmıştır. BTC Ham Petrol P/L Projesi, Türkiye-Yunanistan (ITG) Doğal Gaz Boru Hattı Projesi, Türkiye-Yunanistan- dahil olmak üzere çeşitli boru hattı projelerinin ön fizibilite, fizibilite, pazarlama, finans, hukuk çalışmaları ve lobi faaliyetlerini yürütmüştür. Dr. Cenk Pala, ayrıca Brüksel'deki Enerji Şartı'nın "Endüstri Danışma Paneli"nde BOTAŞ'ı temsil etmiştir. Dr. Pala, Mart 2008 ile Haziran 2013 arasında Alman gaz şirketi E.ON Ruhrgas AG'de Genel Müdür ve şirketin Ankara merkezli Türkiye iştirakinde Yönetim Kurulu Üyesi olarak çaloşmıştır. 2011 yılı itibarıyla hissedarlar tarafından Trans-Adriyatik Boru Hattı (TAP) Türkiye Temsilcisi olarak atanmış ve Haziran 2016'ya kadar görev yapmıştır. Pala, Gazprom iştiraki South Stream Transport BV'ye TürkAkım Projesi Devlet İşleri Koordinatörü olarak Ocak 2017'de katıldı ve Eylül 2018'e kadar Gazprom'da kaldı. 1 Ekim 2018 itibariyle Dr. Pala, EQUINOR Turkey BV'ye Ülke Müdür Yardımcısı olarak katıldı. Ana sorumluluğu, EQUINOR'un Trakya yukarı havza faaliyeti ve Türkiye'deki olası yenilenebilir enerji yatırımları kapsamında paydaş yönetimi ve dış ilişkilerin koordinasyonudur. Halihazırda ERSAN Petrol Rafinerisi'nin (TR'de sadece karada özel rafineri yatırımı) potansiyel ortaklar, yatırımcılar ve finans kuruluşları ile yaptığı görüşmeleri koordine etmektedir. Enerji sektörü üzerine uluslararası konferanslarda üretken bir konuşmacıdır ve aynı zamanda akademisyen enerji ekonomisi, petrol tarihi, petrol krizleri ve yedi kız kardeş, bölgesel ve küresel boru hattı siyaseti, küresel petrol ve gaz sektörü üzerine çok sayıda eser yayınlamıştır. Dr. Pala, Gazi Üniversitesi Ekonomi Bölümü'nden lisans ve yüksek lisans derecesine ve Hacettepe Üniversitesi’nden doktora derecesine sahiptir. Evli ve iki çocuk sahibi Pala, İngilizce bilmektedir.