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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 20th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

Turkey Gets Boost from Pipeline Politics.

by Helena Cobban

WASHINGTON, Jul 19 (IPS) – The political geography of the modern Middle East has been affected for one hundred years by the appetite of westerners and other outsiders for the region’s hydrocarbons. Last week, the region’s “pipeline politics” took another step forward with the signing in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, of an agreement to build a new, 3,300-kilometre gas pipeline called Nabucco, running between eastern Turkey and Vienna, Austria.

The project underlines the new influential role that Turkey, a majority Muslim nation of 72 million people, is playing in the Middle East, and far beyond. The new project’s name was chosen, Austrian officials said, after the Verdi opera that representatives of the five participating countries – who include Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, along with the two terminus states – saw together during an earlier round of negotiations in Vienna.

But the name also gives clues to two intriguing aspects of the project’s geopolitical significance. The theme of the opera is the liberation from bondage of slaves held by the ancient Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (‘Nabucco’) – and it is a widely discussed feature of the Nabucco project that many European nations want access to a gas source that is not under the control of Russia. Last winter, several European nations suffered severe gas shortages after Russia, locked in a tariff dispute with transit-country Ukraine, closed off the spigots completely.

But the other implication of the name is more strictly Middle Eastern. The modern-day home of Nebuchadnezzar is Iraq. Washington has given strong support to the Nabucco project – and one of the reasons U.S. officials give for this support is their hope that once Nabucco is up and running in 2015, Iraq can be one of the nations that reaps large profits by feeding gas into it. However, construction of the pipeline is estimated to cost some eight billion dollars, and many officials in the participating countries are still unclear where they will get enough gas to make it economically viable.

The Nabucco participants had been hoping that a key feeder state would be one of Turkey’s eastern neighbours, Azerbaijan. But on the eve of the project’s inauguration in Ankara, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev took the CEO of the vast Russian gas company Gazprom to Azerbaijan, where they signed a contract with the state gas company that will force Nabucco to compete hard against Gazprom for any purchase it wants to make from Azerbaijan. One fairly evident other source for Nabucco’s would be Iran, which is reported to have considerable amounts of new gas coming online in the next five years.

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