Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have launched the TurkStream pipeline, which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and further to southern European states.
The 930-kilometer-long pipeline running across the bottom of the Black Sea became operational on Jan. 8, with the two leaders attending a special opening ceremony in Istanbul.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also attended the ceremony.
The pipeline project reinforces strong energy ties between Moscow and Ankara, which have also increased defense cooperation after Turkey bought advanced Russian missile defenses last year.
Capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters
The TurkStream natural gas pipeline has a total capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters, out of which the first line will carry 15.75 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to Turkish consumers.
The second line will extend from Bulgaria to Serbia and Hungary. Bulgaria hopes to be able to make shipments to Serbia by May and build the whole section by year-end.
BOTAŞ built the first line that will connect to Turkey’s existing gas grid, while the second line, to be operated by a Gazprom-BOTAŞ joint venture, will stretch to the Turkish-European border in Turkey's Thrace region.
Russia and Turkey are also coordinating military deployments in northeast Syria, although they back opposing sides in the conflict in Syria's northwestern Idlib region and also in the battle for control of Libya.
'Interaction and cooperation'
The pipeline was a sign of "interaction and cooperation for the benefit of our people and the people of all Europe, the whole world", Putin said at the inauguration ceremony.
Russia has already started European gas deliveries through the pipeline, gas operator Bulgartransgaz said on Jan. 5. The pipeline terminal is near the Turkish village of Kıyıköy, some 20 kilometers from the Bulgarian border.
Russia is also doubling the capacity of Nord Stream across the Baltic Sea to Germany as part of plans to bypass Ukraine, which is currently the main route of transit to Europe.
Relations between Moscow and Kiev have deteriorated sharply since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 and pro-Kremlin separatists seized a swath of eastern Ukraine. Ukraine halted its own direct imports of Russian gas in November 2015.
Last month, the U.S. Senate approved a defense bill imposing sanctions related to both TurkStream and Nord Stream 2, as part of measures designed "to deter Russian aggression."
Russian gas producer Gazprom will ship about 3 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year to Bulgaria via TurkStream, replacing a route that formerly passed through Ukraine and Romania.
Gazprom shipped about 3 bcm to Greece and about 500,000 mcm to North Macedonia via that route last year.
Last month, Putin accused Sofia of delaying the building of the pipeline on its territory and said Moscow could find ways to bypass Bulgaria if needed. Borissov denied any deliberate delays.
While Russia and Ukraine at the end of last year signed a five-year agreement on gas transit to Europe, volumes are set to fall from 65 bcm in 2020 to 40 bcm annually from 2021 to 2024.
Before the ceremony, Putin and Erdoğan held a meeting that lasted for nearly an hour-and-a-half.
The two leaders held another meeting after the ceremony.