ISTANBUL – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was received by his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Monday to officially inaugurate the TurkStream undersea natural gas pipeline, which is expected to bring Russian gas through the Black Sea to Turkey and on to Europe starting next year.
Putin joined Erdogan for a ceremony at the Istanbul Congress Center to mark the completion of the offshore section of the pipeline.
“We plan to transfer at least half of the natural gas transported through here to Europe,” Erdogan asserted in a speech at the ceremony, adding it would carry 31.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually.
TurkStream is to give Russia a way to export gas to southern and eastern Europe that avoids going through Ukraine, as Moscow has accused the pro-western government in Kiev of stealing natural gas destined for the European Union.
However, Putin seemed to downplay the Ukrainian factor in his remarks Monday, saying “This is not a project contrary to the interests of third countries, it is to strengthen bilateral relations. It is to improve the conditions of economic collaboration between our two countries, it is beneficial for Turkey.”
Moscow has told the EU that it must link its gas pipelines with the Greek-Turkish border to connect to the new pipeline, effectively ruling out gas transit through Ukrainian territory.
The Turkish route was born after Moscow cancelled the South Stream gas pipeline project in 2014, which was to supply Russian gas under the Black Sea through Bulgaria and on to central Europe.
Instead, Turkstream’s offshore section will connect to the European part of Turkey, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the Bulgarian border.