On 10 November, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a Russian-brokered truce to end their armed conflict. The deal calls for the opening of transport connections between mainland Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, an Azeri exclave that borders Turkey. Turkey has welcomed this development because it would enable it to reach Azerbaijan and the other Turkic republics in Central Asia (and ultimately China), without needing to go through Iran. The accompanying article from Al Monitor, a news site with analysts from the Middle East, highlights what this new corridor means for Turkey and its impact on regional players.

According to the article, Turkey sees the route connecting Nakhchivan to mainland Azerbaijan as “a strategic corridor” which promises big economic gains and further influence in the region. Additionally, as the article states, Turkey hopes this route will reduce its energy costs by giving it more bargaining power with Iranian gas producers since Turkey will now have alternatives in the region. Iran sees Russia as a partner in this region, and both countries will likely see Turkey’s influence as a threat to their interests. Iran has already opposed the idea since it will reduce its strategic importance for Turkey and Iran’s trade route revenues.

However, the article claims that Turkey’s ambitions in the Caucasus may not be realistic. First, there is no indication that Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan are “scrambling for pipelines (that might go through Turkey), to meet some extraordinary energy demand” and similarly there is no increased demand for Turkish goods from Central Asian countries. Second, it is unclear whether Russia will acquiesce to competing Turkish projects in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. Similarly, Iran and China are unlikely to support any, if not block, Turkish plans in Central Asia. Third, “Azerbaijan’s Caspian neighbors’’ do not seem to be on board with Turkish plans either, as they increasingly rely on Russian pipelines to transport their natural gas. Also, they increasingly turn to China for its “promise of large-scale purchases, diminish[ing] the prospects for conduits running through Turkey.”

Ankara is brimming with enthusiasm about gaining a gateway all the way to China…

Source: Fehim Tastekin, “How realistic are Turkey’s ambitions over strategic corridor with Azerbaijan,” Al Monitor, 4 December 2020. https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/12/turkey-russia-iran-conflicting-interests-nagorno-karabakh.html

Having agreed to a joint military center with Russia to monitor the cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey is now eagerly awaiting the next step under the deal between its ally Azerbaijan and Armenia — the opening of a transport link that Ankara frames as a “strategic corridor” promising Turkey big economic gains and further influence in the region.

The Nov. 10 deal, brokered by Russia, calls for the opening of transport connections between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, an Azeri exclave that is separated from the mainland by a strip of Armenian land and shares a tiny border with Turkey.

Ankara is brimming with enthusiasm about gaining a gateway all the way to China, even though the provision is rather ambiguous and not everyone in the region seems to share its excitement.

Still, an upbeat perspective prevails in Turkey that the country will gain a strategic gateway to the Caspian basin, the Turkic republics in Central Asia and China amid the prospect of new pipelines and railway and road projects in the region…
The main points driving those dreams could be summarized as follows:
• A gas pipeline through the corridor could reduce Turkey’s energy costs. Turkey pays $490 per 1,000 cubic meters of Iranian gas, while a conduit via Nakhchivan could reduce the cost to $335.
• Turkmenistan’s gas could also flow to Turkey.
• The Nakhchivan corridor could strengthen Turkey’s hand when it negotiates a renewal of its gas contract with Iran in 2026.
• …
• The capacity of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, designed to carry Azeri gas to Europe via Turkey, could double to 32 billion cubic meters per year.

Turkey’s dreams, however, are Iran’s worries. For years, Iran has served as an alternative land link between Nakhchivan and Azerbaijan, making profits and gaining influence over Baku. Iran is now wary of losing that leverage.

Even this, however, would not close the big gap between Ankara’s overblown strategic ambitions and the realities of the region.
To start with, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are not exactly scrambling for pipelines to meet some extraordinary energy demands. Similarly, Turkish manufacturers are not desperate for transport means to meet some sort of a boom in Central Asian demand for Turkish goods.
Moreover, will Russia acquiesce to rival projects in the Caspian? Russian energy giants such as Gazprom, Transneft and Lukoil are doing business in Azerbaijan. The Russians hold a stake in Azerbaijan’s state-owned energy company SOCAR, which, in turn, holds a stake in the Russian oil refinery Antipinsky…
Furthermore, Azerbaijan’s Caspian neighbors are using Russian conduits for energy supplies to Europe and increasingly turning to China for long-term partnerships. The downtick in Europe’s energy demand, coupled with China’s promise of large-scale purchases, diminishes the prospects for conduits running through Turkey, which include the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Erzurum gas pipeline, along with the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline.

…hopes of reviving the trans-Caspian subsea pipeline project between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, Saglam said its cost had already proved discouraging, while Turkmenistan’s overall approach is “to have a problem-free partnership with China and not irk Russia.”
Furthermore, Turkmenistan is focused on increasing the capacity of its gas pipeline with China, she added.

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