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A new Axis? Kind of.

The hottest international topic as of now, Syria, may've temporarily retreated to the background, and given way to another: energy. Turkish president Erdogan has opened the 23rd world energy congress, and Putin is his most important guest there. The two have already used the pulpit there to preach on international policy, and line out some important plans for the future. Then they withdrew for more private talks, and later they signed an agreement for building the Turkish Stream pipeline.

At a first glance it seems they're warming up their relations yet again. After all, that's been their third meeting within two months, after the G20 summit in St. Petersburg and then China. Besides, they've also had a couple of direct phone conversations, if we're to trust their respective official speakers.

Naturally, this raises the question if a new Axis is being shaped up between Moscow and Ankara, and if it could be a problem for the West. This issue is occupying a number of politicians and analysts these days, especially in the EU and NATO. And the general answer is, Not Really. In the hottest current conflict, Syria, the two presidents (whom the international media have been calling the Tzar and the Sultan), still remain bitter rials. Their geopolitical ambitions are literally clashing head-on in the ravaged Syria.

Let's not forget that around the same time last year, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian bomber near the Syrian border. Russia used the incident to start a massive propaganda and economic war with Turkey, their historical foe in the Black Sea region. But what's happening now? The two leaders have realized that their anti-Western course is a common ground that they share, so now they're trying to bury the hatchet and normalize their relations. At their joint press conference, Putin announced the lifting of the ban on the import of Turkish fruits and vegetables in Russia, which he had intended to do two months earlier after St. Petersburg.

As for the Syrian conflict itself, the two leaders seem to have reached some agreement there: Turkey will tolerate Putin's support for Assad and the increasing Russian military presence in Syria, while Russia won't protest against the Turkish operation in the northern regions of the country (mostly targeting the Kurds, who by the way are US allies). In front of the media, the two used some cliches, like vowing to end the bloodshed and allow humanitarian convoys into Aleppo (one of which the Russians attacked an massacred). Yet, Putin used most of his time to launch one of his tirades against evil America, rather than focusing on the common ground he has with Erdogan.

But the biggest focus was on the subject of energy, because that's where their interests converge the most. Naturally, their biggest advancement was in that field as well. The two signed the final contract for building the Turkish Stream, after 2 years of preparation, and the temporary freezing of their relations after the jet incident. This agreement says two pipelines will be laid at the Black Sea floor, one supplying the European part of Turkey with natural gas, the other reaching Italy via Greece. That's great news for Russia's energy giant Gazprom, because it unleashes new opportunities for expansion and influence. Although they'll have to swallow the fact that Putin made some concessions and agreed on preferential prices for Turkey. But the strategic significance of this project is more important than the short-term profit. Because Europe's dependence on Russian energy sources will continue and posibly expand, despite the EU's vows to diversify their energy portfolio (a much costlier strategy, admittedly, than simply getting gas from the nearest big producer).

The Greeks must be extremely happy too, because the part that will pass through their territory will open lots of new jobs, and right now they're in bad need of them (especially in the more under-developed northern regions). The news is particularly bad for Ukraine, as the project will allow Russia to implement their plan of completely bypassing and isolating Ukraine (and Poland, another Russian foe). Most of the other Balkan countries (save for Greece) must be unhappy by the development as well, particularly the Bulgarians who were hoping to become an energy hub in that corner.

It's obvious that Erdogan is again very interested in the energy issue, and Putin supports him fully. The Turkish leader even hinted at developing further projects for transit gas from Turkmenistan, and said Turkey is working on a third nuclear power station that would cover further 10% of his country's growing energy needs. Russia will be building the first Turkish nuclear power plant, something that Putin takes great pride in. He demonstratively keeps betting hard on fossil fuels an nuclear power, and shows no interest in renewables. He showed it quite clearly in Istanbul. He also showed that in Erdogan, he sees an ally and partner in that respect. So if we're to see a new Axis between those two sometime in the future, it'll most likely be along the energy lines (i.e. economic), plus their shared proneness to authoritarianism (i.e. cultural) – but not military or geopolitical.

But rest assured that as soon as the war in Syria is over, and if they've already distributed their respective spheres of influence between themselves by that time, they won't have anything more to quarrel about, and the new Axis will indeed become a fact.

Source: Talk politics.

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