President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Friday that Turkey’s drillship Fatih discovered 320 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas in the Black Sea. The largest discovery of natural gas in Turkey’s history, it is expected to be part of a broader reserve, marking the beginning of a new chapter for the country. It also represents a giant leap forward in its revolutionary attempt to end its dependence on foreign energy. The currently available natural gas reserve, which could meet Turkey’s energy demand for eight years, is priced at approximately $90 billion (TL 660 billion) based on current prices.
Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who launched the National Energy Drive back in 2015 under Erdoğan’s leadership, stressed Friday that Turkey’s current account deficit will no longer be a problem. He said the new chapter would reflect the thinking that “neither the East nor West but Turkey” should be the new axis.
Turkey’s international standing could further improve if the country manages to end its dependence on foreign energy. Erdoğan highlighted the most recent discovery’s multiplier effect by saying that “energy is needed for countries to put into practice their vision.”
Efforts to extract hydrocarbon resources represented an important part of Turkey’s activism in recent years. After all, competition over energy reserves encompass a broad range of areas, including the economy, national security and geopolitics. As such, it is possible to argue that Turkey has moved one step closer to Erdoğan’s vision: a great and powerful country.
A chess grandmaster of world politics, the president knows all too well that countries that depend on foreign energy are far less likely to manage international tensions and withstand financial turbulence. Hence his words about Turkey’s natural gas discovery: “The Lord has opened a door of unprecedented proportions for us.”
Turkey’s discovery of natural gas in the Black Sea will inevitably impact the ongoing competition in the Eastern Mediterranean. After answering the questions about maritime jurisdictions there in a decisive manner, the country is now one step closer to acting on its claims. Ankara, whose drillships and navy sail those waters, wants to discover additional reserves and deliver on its promise to the Turkish people once again.
The idea of protecting the seas is now part of the Turkish people’s shared interest. The latest discovery thus promoted synergy between Turkey’s sovereign rights and energy interests. Any attack on that synergy will certainly face a national resistance. Leaders of the European Union – in particular, French President Emmanuel Macron – must understand that they cannot impose Greece’s maximalist demands on Turkey. The Turkish people just got a taste of access to hydrocarbon reserves and they don’t intend to let anyone take that away from them.
For Turkey, this great news is more than just natural gas itself.
Obviously, the whole country rejoiced at Erdoğan’s announcement about natural gas. The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) general secretary, Selin Sayek Böke, however, made the unfortunate claim that the discovery of natural gas “won’t entail economic development for Turkey.”
That the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves will boost the Turkish economy is an indisputable fact. Turkey is not in the same situation as the Gulf states, which keep their petrodollars in Western banks and spend them on luxury goods. Quite the contrary, the country managed to build and sustain the region’s most vibrant and resilient economy despite paying a $40 billion energy bill annually.
At this particular stage of the republic’s economic development drive, the discovery of natural gas or petroleum would expedite our progress, rather than make us lazier. As such, Böke’s treatment of the Turkish people and their elected leadership as rentiers won’t cast a shadow over our shared joy.
I wrote earlier this week that the opposition was likely to downplay Erdoğan’s “good news” despite its “serious economic benefits.” I wish I had been mistaken.
[Daily Sabah, 24 August 2020]