Azerbaijan has started preliminary construction work on three new pipelines that will deliver Azerbaijani natural gas to Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Italy. After ten years of discussing plans to extend Azerbaijan’s transit routes for hydrocarbons, the country is finally making progress.
The new pipelines will span from Azerbaijan’s eastern region that meets the Caspian Sea to Italy’s southeast. The three new pipelines are: The South Caucasus Pipeline Expansion (SCPX – Azerbaijan to Turkey), The Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP – Georgia-Turkey border to the Turkey-Greece border), and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP – Turkey-Greece border to Italy), which will begin construction in 2016. It is expected that SCPX and TANAP will start delivering gas by 2019 and TAP by 2020.
Over the years Azerbaijan has become less dependent on Russia. Originally a net importer of natural gas and an exporter of oil, Azerbaijan needed Russian pipelines to export its oil and relied on shipments of natural gas from Russia to meet domestic demand. However, since 2006 Azerbaijan has been independent and increasingly looks towards Turkey to export its oil and gas.
Over the last 10 years Azerbaijan has sought to make pipelines that deliver oil and natural gas into Turkey and then from Turkey to the rest of Europe. Many of these plans were cancelled. Most notably the Nabucco pipeline project, which would have seen natural gas transits through Europe and into Austria, was cancelled in 2013.
The development of these pipelines comes at a tense time. Azerbaijan is strictly under the sphere of Russian influence, but there has been for some time a blossoming relationship between Azerbaijan and Europe. Azerbaijan has managed to meet its economic development goals by leveraging anti-Russian-gas-dependency sentiments in Europe. It has achieved exports to Europe, largely avoiding transit routes through Russia, by courting Turkey and its role in global energy security.
The conflict in Syria has created a tense atmosphere in the region between Sunni countries and Russia. Ankara has made several declarations to Russia and warnings related to Kurdish and Iranian support, with Erdogan even threatening to dissolve major energy deals.
Azerbaijan risks getting caught up in the geopolitics of energy, something it cannot risk given the ongoing hostility between Azerbaijan and Armenia, focused on the semi-autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia plays the role of mediator between the two countries.