Putin visit tells of growing clout

ANKARA – Russian President Vladimir Putin flies to Turkey today to inaugurate a multibillion-dollar pipeline project, a symbol of his country’s economic clout that has grown so strong that Russia is now Turkey’s second-largest trading partner and Russian gas heats most cities in this NATO ally. Putin will meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today near the Black Sea port of Samsun to inaugurate the $3.2 billion (2.6-billion-euro) «Blue Stream» natural gas pipeline which runs under the sea to link Turkey with Russia’s gas fields. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will also attend the ceremony. Italy’s Eni SpA was a key partner in the construction of the pipeline. Including Blue Stream, Russia now supplies 60 percent of Turkey’s gas and 20 percent of its oil. Washington had balked at proposals to build the pipeline and has warned Turkey about its dependence on Russia. But Turkish officials say that in a world of tight gas supplies they have little choice but to increase their dependence on Russia, which has become the world’s largest oil exporter. «It is never good to be this dependent on one country,» said Necdet Pamir, former deputy manager of Turkey’s state-run oil and gas exploration company. «We are trying to diversify, but how?» Neighboring Iran is also a key gas supplier, but increasing dependence on Iran is also politically problematic. The ceremony near Samsun will also highlight the growing business ties between the two countries and their burgeoning political relationship. Erdogan and Putin have met five times since Erdogan came to office. The ceremony will officially inaugurate the project, the world’s deepest undersea pipeline, but comes more than two years after gas began to flow. The pipeline and the accompanying gas deals have been plagued with charges of mismanagement and corruption and gas purchases have had to be renegotiated. In May, Parliament voted down an opposition motion to censure Energy Minister Hilmi Guler that said that Guler caused billions of dollars of losses by agreeing to pay inflated prices for Russian gas. «It was impossible for a long time to have a ceremony,» Pamir said. «There was nothing to celebrate.»

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