ECONOMY

Blue Stream ‘launched’

DURUSU METERING STATION, Turkey – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart yesterday officially opened a $3.2 billion (2.6-billion-euro) gas pipeline that connects northern Turkey to Russia’s gas fields, a project that has come to symbolize Moscow’s growing clout in this NATO ally. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped that the pipeline «does not only carry gas but peace.» Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also participated in the opening. Italy’s Eni SpA was a key partner in the construction of the natural gas pipeline. Washington had balked at proposals to build the pipeline and has warned Turkey about its dependence on Russia, which now supplies 60 percent of the country’s gas and 20 percent of its oil. But Turkish officials say that in a world of tight gas supplies, they have little choice but to increase their dependence on Russia, which produces almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s ceremony officially opened the Blue Stream pipeline, the world’s deepest undersea pipeline, which stretches from southern Russia under the Black Sea to the Durusu Metering Station, a natural gas terminal outside the port city of Samsun. An extension of the pipeline then carries the gas to the Turkish capital of Ankara. The pipeline is currently pumping 3.2 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year and has a capacity to pump 16 bcm. Russia could supply all of Turkey’s natural gas needs if Blue Stream were at full capacity, which it could reach in several years, and Turkey continued importing additional natural gas through a Russian pipeline that runs through Bulgaria. Being so close to key energy producers is fueling Turkish ambitions to use its strategic location to become a global energy conduit. Erdogan plans to lobby Putin to support a Turkish project that would extend the pipeline to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, where Russian gas could then be exported to the West, a Turkish official said. The pipeline could even be extended undersea to Israel, a project that the leaders will also discuss, the official added. He spoke on condition of anonymity as Turkish officials are not permitted to speak to the press without prior authorization. The meeting shows «Samsun is not the end of the energy line, but the start of it,» said Soner Cagaptay, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The pipeline ceremony not only highlights growing business ties between the two countries but their burgeoning political relationship. Erdogan and Putin have met five times since Erdogan’s party took control of Parliament in 2002 and trade with Russia is expected to reach $15 billion (13 billion euros) this year. «Having this kind of high-profile meeting sends a discreet message to Washington and Brussels that Turkey has other options,» said Bulent Aliriza, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. But he added that «we’re still far away from the point where Turkey might want to exercise that option, not that Russia would not want to nudge Turkey down that path.» Many Turks have grown increasingly frustrated with Europe’s ambivalence toward accepting the predominantly Muslim nation. In 2002, a top Turkish general said Turkey’s efforts to join the EU were doomed to failure and Turkey should look toward gas-rich Russia and Iran for alliances. But relations with Russia were not always so cozy. Turkey is a member of NATO, an alliance formed to counter Soviet expansion into Europe. During the Cold War, Turkey’s Black Sea coast was the site of US radar stations that looked across the sea into Russia to snoop on the Soviet fleet and nuclear missile tests. In Ottoman times, the coast was a major base for the Ottoman fleet, which repeatedly battled Russian forces. 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 and the ceremony comes two years after the gas began to flow. In 2003, disputes over price and volume shut down the pipeline for several months. «It was impossible for a long time to have a ceremony,» said Necdet Pamir, former deputy manager of Turkey’s state-run oil and gas exploration company, referring to the pricing problems. «There was nothing to celebrate.»