Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's prime minister officially opened a €2.6 billion pipeline Thursday connecting Turkey to Russian gas fields and claimed Turkey could become an energy hub for Europe and Israel.
The Blue Stream pipeline, which has been running for more than two years but was just officially inaugurated, already pumps 3.2 billion cubic meters of gas a year, but has the potential to more than quadruple that volume.
Putin said that capacity could be further expanded.
"Another branch of the gas pipeline could be built across the Black Sea bed," Putin said. "Additional capacity could be built to supply gas to southern Italy, and in general, southern Europe, and Israel."
It has long been the dream of Turkey, which neighbors Iran and Iraq and is now connected to Russia's gas fields via the underwater pipeline, to act as an energy corridor to the West.
An oil pipeline already brings Iraqi crude to Turkey's southern Mediterranean port of Ceyhan for export and another pipeline will bring Azerbaijani Caspian oil to the same port.
"We can extend Blue Stream to Ceyhan and build an important north-south energy corridor," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "We are determined to make Ceyhan a trade and energy center."
"I think we can build a ... bypass oil pipeline that will carry Russian and Kazakh oil to the Mediterranean by the 2010s," Erdogan added. This would enable the transportation of oil that reached the Black Sea to the Mediterranean safely and economically."
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also participated in the opening ceremony. Italy's Eni SpA was a key partner in the construction of the natural gas pipeline.
The Blue Stream pipeline is the world's deepest undersea pipeline, stretching from southern Russia under the Black Sea to the Durusu Metering Station, a gas terminal outside of the port city of Samsun. An extension of the pipeline then carries the gas to the capital of Ankara.
The pipeline ceremony highlights the burgeoning political relationship between Russia and NATO ally Turkey.
Now, Russian gas warms the Turkish capital, and Moscow is this NATO member's second-largest trading partner.
The pipeline project has been plagued with controversy which is why the ceremony comes more than two years after the gas began to flow, the AP reports.