President Joe Biden surprised EastMed partners by abruptly withdrawing U.S. support for the pipeline on January 9, thereby effectively killing the project, preventing a diversified supply of energy to Europe, and further assuring even greater revenues for Russia and its war machine. "The Biden Administration's actions in this matter are particularly objectionable and hypocritical in light of its tacit approval of Russia's Nord Stream pipeline, which will only deepen Europe's energy dependence on a volatile adversary," said U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis (pictured) in response. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Netflix)
Once again U.S. President Joe Biden's strategic miscalculation is coming with a strategic cost: appeasing NATO's pro-Putin, part-time ally Turkey and jeopardizing Europe's energy security.
The past several years saw the East Mediterranean turning into a slow-fuse time bomb sitting over rich hydrocarbons claimed questionably by Turkey as a stand-alone regional force versus an alliance of Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
In this tug-of-war, Turkey threatened to take military action if the alliance of rival countries went ahead with its plans to bypass Turkey and transport an annual 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe with a planned underwater pipeline. Turkey alleges that any such pipeline would violate its sovereignty over the Mediterranean and proposes, instead, unsurprisingly, a less costly pipeline carrying natural gas to Europe through Turkish territory.
Other countries in the region such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Gulf states supported what later became the EastMed group, also favored by the European Union and United States. Until recently.
Biden recently surprised EastMed partners by abruptly withdrawing U.S. support for the pipeline, thereby effectively killing the project, preventing a diversified energy supply to Europe, and further assuring even greater revenues for Russia and its war machine. The White House said the $7 billion project was antithetical to its "climate goals." Biden presumably hopes no one will actually still be using fossil fuels by 2025, the date for the planned completion of the EastMed pipeline, although alternatives -- apart from energy supplied by adversaries of America -- such as Russia and Iran -- are nowhere near ready. The Biden administration also cited a supposed lack of economic and commercial viability, even though a 2019 study financed by the European Union confirmed that "the EastMed Project is technically feasible, economically viable and commercially competitive."
Few people agreed with Biden's reasoning.
Greek defense analyst Theofrastos Andreopoulos wrote that Biden's decision was a triumph for Turkey and a defeat for Greece:
"In short, this means that Turkey, which supposedly was falling into disfavor with the Americans, got exactly what it wanted: the cancellation of the pipeline.
"The most important parameter in the non-paper justifying the U.S. position, beyond the economic and commercial elements, points out that this pipeline is a source of tension in the Eastern Mediterranean — clearly taking the position of Turkey!
"That is, the Americans do not want the pipeline because Ankara might 'get angry.'"
Also unsurprisingly, the U.S. move further emboldened Turkey's Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has never hidden his neo-Ottoman, irredentist ambitions over what once was considered the "Turkish lake": the Aegean and the Mediterranean.
In a January 18 speech, Erdoğan said that, "Without [a pipeline passing through] Turkey, Mediterranean gas cannot be brought to Europe."
Biden's U-turn came at a time when Turkey is flexing muscles in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Ignoring severe budgetary constraints and a punishing economic crisis, the Turkish government is developing and building for the Navy three new frigates, unmanned anti-submarine warfare vessels, submarines, unmanned surface vessels, an intelligence gathering ship, assault boats, an indigenous anti-ship missile and a $1.2 billion landing helicopter dock.
More importantly, Biden's gross miscalculation came only a few weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine and announced its dictates to redraw Europe's energy map.
Shortly after Russia formally recognized two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, Donesk and Luhanz, Germany on February 22 announced that it was suspending the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea natural gas pipeline project, designed to double the flow of Russian gas directly to Germany and Western Europe, and bypass Ukraine. Nord Stream 2, worth $11 billion and possibly Europe's most divisive energy project, was finished in September, but has stood idle pending certification by Germany and the EU. Germany therefore was "heroically" suspending something that was not operational in the first place.
"Welcome to the brave new world where Europeans are very soon going to pay €2.000 for 1.000 cubic meters of natural gas!" tweeted Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's former president and prime minister, and now deputy chairman of its Security Council -- suggesting that because of the suspension, prices were set to double.
Warnings about the consequences of killing the EastMed Pipeline -- and thereby preventing the diversification of energy supplies to Europe -- arrived shortly before Russia's military incursion. Evidently, it was just another clear message that Biden preferred to ignore. According to a January 24 press release published on the congressional website of U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis:
"As natural gas is a cleaner energy option when compared to coal, it is a crucial energy source for governments seeking to transition to greener energy sources.. The European Union recognizes this fact and has declared the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline a 'special project.'
"'The Biden Administration's actions in this matter are particularly objectionable and hypocritical in light of its tacit approval of Russia's Nord Stream pipeline, which will only deepen Europe's energy dependence on a volatile adversary,' said Congressman Bilirakis."
As Biden was busy undercutting three staunch U.S. allies in the Mediterranean to appease Erdoğan and a fantasy of "green energy" -- that is years from being either ready or affordable -- to appease America's Democrat Party, Ankara would once again prove to be only a part-time Western ally.
On February 25 , in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Turkey abstained from voting on suspending Russia's membership in the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe. "During the vote in Strasbourg, Turkey decided to abstain," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said. "We don't want to break off the dialogue with Russia."
Biden should immediately reverse his decision and permit the EastMed pipeline.
In December 2019, Biden had described Erdoğan as an autocrat and promised to empower Turkey's opposition parties through democratic processes. Was that a joke, or is Biden a crypto-fan of Erdoğan?
Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from the country's most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.