MOSCOW, December 20 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed on Thursday an agreement to build a natural gas pipeline along the Caspian Sea coast.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, the region's major gas producers, agreed on May 12 to build a pipeline along the Caspian coast to pump 10-20 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe via Russia's pipeline network.
The pipeline deal is seen as a major blow to U.S. and European Union efforts to build an alternative pipeline under the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russia, to pump Central Asian gas to Europe via Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Putin, who attended the signing ceremony, said the project would boost Europe's energy security.
"The creation of this new energy artery will allow large-volume gas supplies in the long-term to our partners and will become a new major contribution by our countries to improved energy security in the Eurasian space, and in a larger context, for our consumers in Western Europe," Putin said.
Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, who signed the deal on behalf of Moscow, said the Caspian pipeline would be launched before the end of 2010.
"All project and investment decisions will have been taken by the end of 2008 and we expect the pipeline to go into operation no later than the end of 2010," Khristenko said.