Russia began pumping natural gas to Turkey Dec. 29 through the Blue Stream gas pipeline under the Black Sea, the world's deepest undersea gas link, an engineer at a coastal pumping station said.
Turkish critics of the project had warned that it would make Turkey dependent on Russia, while the United States sees Blue Stream and another pipeline delivering Iranian gas to Turkey as rivals to a project it backs to carry natural gas across the Caspian Sea to Turkey.
The 1,393-kilometer Blue Stream pipeline runs from the southern Russian gas plant of Izobilnoy under the sea to the northern Turkish port of Samsun and then to the capital Ankara.
A preliminary quantity of nitrogen was pumped into the pipeline to ensure the dryness of the material, and then the natural gas was sent after it, with a likely 24-hour undersea journey before it reaches Samsun. The pipeline is due to deliver 16 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey per year.
"This is our biggest investment project of the past 10 years," Yury Basarygin, head of the pipeline's Russian contractor, Kubangazprom, told Itar-Tass.
Natalya Selivanova, a spokeswoman for Gazprom, of which Kubangazprom is a regional subsidiary, said the Turkish company Botash would receive its first quantities of Russian gas Dec. 30.
The flow will be raised to full design capacity after the pressure has reached the required level within 15 days, she said, as quoted by Interfax.
The construction of the pipeline, which runs from the southern Russian gas plant of Izobilnoy via the pumping station near Dzhugba, was completed on Oct. 20 with an official ceremony at Samsun after the offshore section was welded to the Turkish section.
The pipeline, running at a depth of more than two kilometers (7,000 feet) at some points, took two years to construct. The undersea section is some 400 kilometers long.
Turkey was originally to purchase 8 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year via the Blue Stream link, but earlier this year reached an agreement with Russia to reduce both the amount and the price it pays for the gas.
According to a new arrangement, Turkey will not purchase any gas in 2002 unless there is demand at home, and will buy only two billion cubic meters in 2003.
Interfax said Russian gas sales through the pipeline would be increased by two billion cubic meters annually to reach the target level of 16 billion cubic meters.