Construction of the new South Stream gas pipeline has begun. It will transport Russian gas to 38 million households in southern Europe starting 2015.
Vladimir Putin personally attended the official start of construction work on the South Stream pipeline in the coastal town of Anapa.
The pipeline will stretch over 2400 kilometers, traversing the Black Sea and will carry Russian gas via Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia to Italy.
The Russian energy giant Gazprom is one of the main drivers behind the multi-billion project. It owns half the shares in the South Stream Transport consortium that runs the operation. The other half is split between Italian company ENI , French EDF and German BASF subsidiary Wintershall.
The pipeline will be able to transport 63 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
Construction is to be completed by 2015 and the price tag has been put at a minimum of 16 billion euros.
South Stream will be complimentary to the Nord Stream pipeline completed in 2011, which transports 55 million cubic meters of Russian gas through the Baltic Sea to Germany and Western Europe bypassing Poland and Ukraine.
Russia has been keen to establish routes circumventing Ukraine, which Russia has accused of siphoning off gas in the past and not adhering to bilateral agreements on gas delivery.
South Stream, however, is also competition to plans favored by the European Union for the Nabucco Pipeline, which is supposed to pump gas from Central Asia to Europe via Turkey and southern Europe. Plans for the beginning of the construction have been delayed repeatedly and are now scheduled for 2013.
Through such a pipeline the EU hopes to reduce its independence on Russian gas, which accounts for 80 percent of the EU's gas imports so far.
rg/sej (dpa, AFP)