Will LNG mend Turkish - US relations?

By THO Team Member, Sean Russell 

Every day, hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of Russian natural gas flow through the Anatolian peninsula, bringing Turkey ever closer to Russia. The relationship between these two countries has always been troubled, but has been maintained through convenience. The modern relationship of the two is based almost completely on energy. Turkey is the largest non-EU importer of Russian natural gas. With an increasing appetite, both the US and Russia are motivated to feed Turkey’s growing energy demand.

TurkStream, a massive pipeline under the Black Sea, is Russia’s latest maneuver to monopolize the European energy market. The pipe compliments the trans-Anatolian pipeline fueling Turkey with Russian and Azerbaijani natural gas. The Turkish Ministry of Energy states that diversification is a pillar of their mission statement, largely due to their dependence on Russian natural gas. Here is where the US must step in; not only for mutual economic benefit, but to mend a strained relationship, bringing Turkey closer to NATO and its western allies.

In recent years, liquid natural gas (LNG) has become a star of US exports. LNG is at the forefront of energy innovation, natural gas cooled and liquified for easy storage and transportation. While derived from natural gas, LNG burns cleaner than its gaseous counterpart and shrinks to 1/600 the volume. LNG, while considered costly to produce, allows for the easy transportation of natural gas where pipelines may be unreasonable. However the Covid-19 pandemic has rendered the industry shell-shocked and in need of new export markets: enter Turkey. 

With increasing LNG capacity and infrastructure, Turkey is on track to become one of the largest consumers of LNG in the world. Able to capitalize on low prices during the Covid-19 crisis, Turkey is in position to rapidly diversify and restructure its energy sector. 

The US should seize the opportunity to strengthen its bond with Turkey. Energy is the ‘convenience’ of the Russia-Turkey relationship. US LNG exports can be the tool to wedge in between this relationship, drawing Turkey closer to NATO and its western allies. A move to soothe US-Turkish relations such as this could lead to breakthrough within the S400 crisis, opening dialogue for continued cooperation. 

Supporting the trade of LNG has multiple benefits to both the exporter(US) and importer(Turkey). On the American side, this sustained transaction would provide the US with a growing export-market, a commodity to grow the US-Turkish relationship, and an economic bulwark against Russian energy mongering.  On the Turkish side, LNG imports would provide an alternative to Russian natural gas, further Turkey’s energy diversification, and cement US economic interests in the Turkish economy. 

Turkey is a vital NATO ally and its importance is commonly understated. Since their admittance to NATO in 1952, Turkey has been a bastion of strategic importance in both the Middle East and as a bulwark against the Soviet aggression of the 20th century. LNG is more than a form of energy, and may act as an extended hand of cooperation through hard times.

From Syria to the S400, Turkey and the US have had their fair share of moments at odds. LNG provides a multi-faceted remedy to this relationship, with great benefit to both parties. Energy is the lifeblood of a state, and in turn the world. It is an underrated tool of diplomacy, and should be looked at as a way forward for the US and Turkey.


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