Connecting the Solidarity Ring with a gas hub in Turkey is obvious. Unfortunately, it remains doubtful whether the hub will also trade in Azeri gas. In fact, it is almost certain that the gas planned for transmission to south-eastern and Central Europe can only be Russian – writes Teresa Wójcik, editor at BiznesAlert.pl.
A month ago, Azerbaijan’s Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov took part in a meeting of energy ministers of countries that initiated the Solidarity Ring. A government Memorandum on the implementation of this project was signed by Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia in December 2022. The goal of this project is to increase the export of Azeri gas to the Balkans and the European Union by bypassing Greece and the TAP gas pipeline. The argument is strong – the complete replacement of Russian gas with Azeri supplies.
Natural gas from Azerbaijan is already exported to Europe via the TANAP and TAP pipelines. However, the Solidarity Ring route has no direct or indirect connection to TAP or the Greece-Bulgaria interconnector. According to the documents, it will use the Turkish Stream pipe, which connects Turkey-Bulgaria-Serbia-Hungary-Slovakia with a possible extension to Romania and possibly to the Czech Republic. In Ankara (Anadolu Agency), a few days ago there was talk that Azeri gas supplied by the Turkish Stream gas pipeline can also be delivered to Poland as the finally completed project of the Southern Gas Corridor. “In practice, the Solidarity Ring is a continuation of the Nabucco project, which Poland was very interested in,” Andalou wrote.
As already mentioned, Azeri gas is currently supplied from Baku to Europe via Turkey and Greece via the TANAP and TAP gas pipelines. The capacity of TANAP is 15 billion cubic meters a year. Of this, 5 billion cubic meters is bought by Turkey, 10 bcm is delivered via the TAP gas pipeline to Greece and via Albania and the Ionian Sea to Italy. Turkey can give up its 5 bcm and re-export them through the Solidarity Ring. The thing is that there is no connection between the TANAP gas pipeline and the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. Thus, it is technically impossible for Azeri gas from the TANAP gas pipeline to be sent to the Solidarity Ring. For this purpose, it would be necessary to build a new connector connecting TANAP with Turkish Stream, with a capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters a year. Where should the missing 10 bcm of Azeri gas come from to fill this gap? Direct transit to Bulgaria is impossible, and so is increasing transit from Baku to Turkey, and shutting down the transmission of 10 billion cubic meters via the TAP is also off the table. SOCAR has signed a 12-year contract with Italy, and TAP shareholders will not agree to the closure of the pipeline.
The Solidarity Ring initiative is officially Bulgaria’s idea. In January 2023, a Bulgarian-Turkish agreement was signed, according to which BOTAS is to supply Bulgaria with 1.5 bcm of gas annually for 13 years. There is no question where the gas is to come from. It may be from the LNG that arrives to Turkish terminals. Meanwhile, Bulgaria has further plans-through the network of the Turkish-Russian pipelines, it wants to participate in large deliveries of natural gas to Europe. And that is to be done by replacing the Turkish Stream with the Solidarity Ring. In a nutshell – a project that aims to direct significant volumes of natural gas from the east to Europe. Formally, according to the Turkish Stream/Solidarity Ring project, the gas will be from Azerbaijan. However, in reality that is impossible. So there is a serious problem – where to get gas?
The solution is at hand. Turkey is a regional gas hub. Bulgaria’s pro-Turkish turn is connected to a Russian project where a regional natural gas hub is to be developed. Both Putin and Erdogan have discussed the issue several times. Recently, a few days after the elections in Turkey, both leaders agreed that the implementation of this project has become urgent. Europe will still need gas, and the Turkish hub will sell this gas. Although the specifics have not been publicly stated, the connection between the Solidarity Ring and the gas hub in Turkey is obvious. Unfortunately, it is quite doubtful whether this hub will also trade Azeri gas, it is almost certain that the gas planned for transmission to south-eastern and Central Europe can only be Russian.
One of the three foundations of the Three Seas Initiative was the North-South Gas Corridor. In the south, the Corridor starts with a small 3 bcm LNG terminal on Croatia’s Krk island. One can become concerned that the Solidarity Ring will eventually become the southern section of the Corridor and will have a Turkish trade label. And yet only four years ago, within the framework of the Three Seas Initiative, it was possible to reach an agreement with the Greeks and block Russian gas from the south.