On November 19, 2018 Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey to participate in a ceremony marking the completion of a key phase of the construction of the TurkStream gas pipelines from Russia to Turkey. At the ceremony Putin emphasized that the first of the TurkStream's two pipelines will pump Russian gas to western Turkey and the second will pump it to the countries of Southern and Southeastern Europe by transit, transforming Turkey into an important European hub and boost Turkey’s growing geopolitical role. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan noted at the ceremony that the friendship between Russia and Turkey has grown stronger over the years, stressing that the bilateral relations between the two countries have never been affected by pressure from "third countries" (i.e., the Unites States).
Ceremony marking the completion of TurkStream gas pipeline’s offshore section. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
It is worth noting that Putin and Erdogan met six times in the course of this year. In April, Putin attended the ground-breaking ceremony for the Akkuyu nuclear power on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, which is being constructed by Russia’s state-run company Rosatom. In his recent visit, Putin stated that TurkStream, just like the Akkuyu plant, will become "an outstanding symbol of the progressive development of the Russian-Turkish diverse partnership" and "a pledge of friendship" between the two nations.
Following the TurkStream ceremony, the Russian state-run news agency RIA reported that Putin's visit was "historic" because "the energy map of Europe... will undergo serious changes when the pipelines become operational… TurkStream is first of all an alternative for the European energy sector." RIA emphasized that Germany understands the strategic role of TurkStream and this why it is hurrying to complete Nord Stream 2, an export gas pipeline running from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea. It added that when once both pipelines are operational, no one will have the exclusive ability to shut off the gas to Europe – except for Russia.
Commenting on the TurkStream pipeline, Director General of the National Energy Institute Sergei Pravosudov recalled that the South Stream pipeline, which was to transport Russia's natural gas across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and then through Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia to Austria, was cancelled (in 2014) after Bulgaria pulled out due to strong opposition from the European Commission. The route of TurkStream is similar, but instead of crossing the Black Sea to Bulgaria it reaches the northern coast of Turkey. Pravosudov said: "The first leg [of the pipeline] directly reaches Turkey and connects to the network of gas pipelines that already exists in the country, while the infrastructure will need to be upgraded before it can be used for the construction of the second leg [to Bulgaria]. The only issue is that there is no connection between Bulgaria and Serbia, but it is going to be built. Once this is done, gas will be transported from Serbia to Hungary and then to Austria. Compared to the expensive South Stream project, the scope of work is not that big."
According to Russian media outlets, the Russian gas company Gazprom, which is implementing the TurkStream project, plans to extend the pipeline to Bulgaria and begin delivering gas there by 2020; the next section, to Hungary, is meant to become operational by 2021. This means that, by 2022, Russia can stop piping gas via Ukraine.
The Russian paper Kommersant stated that, this time "it will be dramatically more complicated to affect the project's suspension, because Gazprom is fully complying with the [competition] laws of the European Union."
Below are Putin's and Erdogan's speeches at the ceremony marking the completion of TurkStream gas pipeline’s offshore section, as reported in English by the Kremlin.ru website (emphases added):
Turkish President Erdogan: 'The Friendship Between Russia And Turkey Has Grown Stronger Over The Years… We Have Never Made Our Bilateral Relations Dependent On Pressure From Third Countries'
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan: "Mr. President of the Russian Federation, my friend Vladimir Putin. Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you from the bottom of my heart, with love and respect.
"First of all, I would like to address the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Vladimir Putin, and thank him for his visit to the wonderful city of Istanbul, to our country. Welcome to you and your delegation.
"Relations between Turkey and Russia have reached their peak. This is reflected in our energy cooperation. We are now witnessing yet another step in this direction – the TurkStream gas pipeline. It reaching the coast of the Turkish Republic today is very important to us, and we are very happy about it.
"The first step was taken in 2014. In 2016 the intergovernmental agreement already described the project’s concrete framework and now we have reached the last stage – the completion of the project.
"Together with our Russian friends, we have invested a lot of effort in this project of historical significance, both bilaterally between our countries and geopolitically among the countries of the region.
"The land and the sea area of the Russian Federation and of Turkey will be ready for the operation of the TurkStream gas pipeline in 2019 after tests are carried out.
"The project’s offshore section was completed today. Two pipes are being laid in parallel. Their total length is 930 km. They are laid at the depth of over two kilometers beneath the surface of the water. Kiyikoy is the place where the construction of a gas receiving terminal is being carried out at a very rapid pace.
"The pipe is expected to transport 31 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.
"This project has many benefits not only for our people and our country but also for our neighbors and the region as a whole. We plan to send to the European Union at least half of the natural gas that will be transported via this pipeline. As for our country, Istanbul, Bursa, Kocaeli and Izmir are vital centers for its production and export and their growth will get a boost as a result. This is why Turkey will be able to meet its own natural gas needs and those of the EU without subjecting itself to transit risks.
"In cooperation with our Russian friends we have reliably carried out a very technically demanding project that meets high security standards. We also raised its already high resilience standards to an even higher level.
"Friends, if we look at global energy markets, natural gas is becoming more important, as is the balance between demand and supply. In this sense, the economic potential of energy projects is very important taking into consideration the countries’ conditions on how natural gas will be supplied and consumed. Of course we should respect these decisions. Situations where countries’ sovereign rights are violated and where pressure is applied will be of no use to anyone.
"For us, Russia is an old and reliable friend as well as an important supplier of natural gas, as these projects demonstrate.
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"Turkey has already purchased 387 billion cubic meters of natural gas since 1987. This is a very significant number. It shows our relations in the sphere of energy and other cooperation areas, and proves that our relations have already been through all kinds of tests. The friendship between Russia and Turkey has grown stronger over the years, resulting in various mutually beneficial projects. We have never made our bilateral relations dependent on pressure from 'third countries.'
"We have always made every effort to continue to develop long-term relations with Russia at the regional and global levels. We support justice, peace and stability to promote relations. We have always worked with our Russian friends toward this end. Our common position has already born fruit, especially regarding the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
"Dear guests, our cooperation with Russia is developing in a wide range of areas. In early April we also began work on the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant project. We are implementing this nuclear energy project together with Russia.
"Our countries’ complementary economies give us another opportunity. We can use this to our advantage to develop our bilateral trade. Last year it grew 30 percent. We aim to increase it to $100 billion.
"Mutual investment, in addition to the Akkuyu project, accounts for more than $10 billion from each side. Speaking about tourism, in the first nine months of this year Turkey received 5.1 million Russian tourists. This is a new record.
"Next year will be the Year of Tourism in both countries, with events designed to help our countries get to know each other better.
"In conclusion, I would like to thank you, my friend, Your Excellency, Mr. Vladimir Putin, and your delegation.
"Mr. Putin, of course, I am sure that cooperation with you will result in new projects and new results. I am very glad to welcome you all here once again, with great fondness and respect. I wish you all the best."
Russian President Putin: TurkStream Will Transform Turkey Into A Serious European Hub, Which Will Affect Its Geopolitical Role
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: "Mr. President, my dear friend. Ladies and gentlemen,
"To begin with, I would like to thank Mr. Erdogan for inviting us to attend the ceremony marking the completion of TurkStream gas pipeline’s offshore section.
"Before getting down to business – I may have to repeat some things or provide some more detailed information, which will be a pleasure for me – I would like to say that the trade turnover Mr. President has just mentioned, $100 billion, will be actually Russia’s bilateral trade with China this year. But then, why should Russia’s trade with Turkey be smaller? I have no doubt that we can and will attain the same target in our relations with Turkey.
"Now to the project at hand. We are taking part in a truly signal event that testifies to the effectiveness of our countries’ partner-like cooperation in accomplishing the most difficult and ambitious projects.
"I would like to remind you that the agreement on building TurkStream was signed here, in Istanbul, on October 10, 2016. I think you know – I certainly do – who suggested naming the project TurkStream. Today, barely two years after the start of this large-scale venture, we have completed its most difficult part. It was really a very serious and challenging job – to build the deep-water part of the new gas pipeline.
"Friends, ladies and gentlemen,
"I would like to note that extracting and transporting gas is no easy job as someone may think; it is not simply drilling a hole in the ground and then pumping. This is difficult work involving high technology, both for extraction and transport. Let me remind you that this is the most environment-friendly and the most popular type of primary energy in the world today.
"It has already been said here, but I should correct my colleague that 1,800 kilometers of pipelines have been laid on the bottom of the Black Sea at a depth of 2,000 meters and more. The first of the two pipelines will pump Russian gas to western Turkey and the second will pump it to the countries of Southern and Southeastern Europe by transit. Of course, this transforms Turkey into a serious European hub, which, without a doubt, will reflect on Turkey’s role in the geopolitics.
"The next stage is laying the ground part of TurkStream. We believe that this work will also be carried out at an accelerated pace so that we will be able to launch the pipeline by the end of 2019, as planned.
"I want to stress that the cutting-edge technological solutions and the most advanced equipment are used in the construction; the strictest environmental standards and norms are observed.
"Let me point out that Russia and Turkey have been successfully developing cooperation in energy for a long time, as Mr. President said. In this context, let me also say that 13 years ago Mr. Erdogan and I launched the first trans-Black Sea gas pipeline, Blue Stream, which directly connected Russia and eastern Turkey. Today more than half of all the Russian gas purchased for the Turkish markets goes through it. The long and stable exploitation of this pipeline, including during the difficult winter months, has proven that Russia is a reliable supplier of natural gas and has provided the Turkish economy with an environment-friendly and efficient type of fuel.
"It goes without saying that the launching of TurkStream will allow our countries to drastically expand cooperation in the gas sector, will have great significance for Turkey’s economic development, and will also become an important factor in maintaining common European energy security.
"I would like to use this opportunity and to thank the participants in this complicated project, including the experts and workers and those who have financed it.
"I would like to thank President of the Republic of Turkey Mr. Erdogan for displaying political will and courage. Why? Because it is impossible to implement projects like this in conditions of growing competition without these traits. The trust, mentioned by my Turkish colleague five minutes ago, hinges on this. And again, projects like this cannot be carried out without such trust.
"But I would also like to thank many of our Turkish colleagues, including the former Minister of Economics who helped launch this project, and everyone who promptly authorized the issuance of the necessary permits and licenses. I would like to thank the members of parliament of the Turkish Republic for their support. All this has allowed the builders to meet the deadlines and to even work faster than planned.
"I am confident that TurkStream, just like our other joint strategic project, Turkey’s first Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, will become an outstanding symbol of the progressive development of the Russian-Turkish diverse partnership and a pledge of friendship between our nations.
"I wish successes to all of you and all of us in the future.
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan: "Congratulations! Godspeed!"
Putin: Such projects Are Not Directed Against Anyone’s Interests
Vladimir Putin: "Mr. President, friends, such projects, including this project, are not directed against anyone’s interests. These projects are solely constructive. They aim to expand relations between states, to create stable conditions for economic development and to improve the well-being of our countries’ citizens in this way.
"The implementation of this kind of projects, including this one, is an outstanding and positive example of the ability to defend one’s national interests because TurkStream completely meets the national economic interests of the Republic of Turkey.
"I congratulate you on completing the most important stage of its implementation.
"Thank you, Mr. President."
 Kremlin.ru, November 19, 2018.
 Kremlin.ru, November 19, 2018.
 Kremlin.ru, November 19, 2018.
 Ria.ru, November 20, 2018.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7520, Russia In The World – Russia-Bulgaria Reconciliation – Bulgaria's President Radev: 'No Sanctions Are Forever'; Bulgaria's PM Borisov Apologizes For Failure Of South Stream: 'I Am To Blame For Creating Certain Tensions', June 12, 2018.
 Tass.com, November 20, 2018.
 Kommersant.ru, November 22, 2018.
 Kommersant.ru, November 22, 2018.
 Kremlin.ru, November 2018.