Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin inaugurated a new gas pipeline linking their countries at a ceremony in Istanbul on Wednesday.
Erdoğan described the Turkstream pipelines -- which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and Europe via the Black Sea -- as a "project of historic importance" for relations between their countries.
Putin arrived late on Tuesday after paying a surprise visit to Syria -- his first to Damascus since the war began -- at a moment of acute uncertainty in the Middle East following the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the United States.
TurkStream and the Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic allow Russia to increase gas supplies to Europe without having to rely on Ukraine.
ERDOĞAN: BILATERAL TRADE WITH RUSSIA REGULARLY IMPROVING
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony for TurkStream project in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed out that bilateral trade with Russia had been regularly improving.
"Turkey did not allow divergent opinions with Russia to derail common interests," Erdoğan said in a statement.
The TurkStream project, which was temporarily halted during a frosty patch in Russia-Turkey relations, includes two parallel pipelines of more than 900 kilometres (550 miles).
The pipeline links Anapa in Russia to Kiyikoy in northwestern Turkey and has already begun deliveries to Bulgaria. It is being extended towards Serbia, Hungary and Austria.
TURKEY AIMS TO EASE TENSION IN REGION
Referring to the increasing tensions between the U.S. and neighboring country Iran, Erdoğan stressed in his speech: "Turkey has never sought regional tension."
"Tensions between neighbor Iran, ally US has reached levels we never desired. Turkey aims to ease tension in region, amid increasing strain between US, Iran," Erdoğan added.
"Turkey will do all possible not to allow region to be drowned in blood and tears," Turkish president said in his televised remarks as commenting on the latest developments in the region.
ERDOĞAN RULES OUT ANY PROJECT IN EASTERN MED. THAT EXCLUDES TURKEY
During his speech, Erdoğan ruled out any project in the Eastern Mediterranean excluding Turkey.
"There is no chance of realizing any project in the Eastern Mediterranean that excludes our country […]," he said.
Last week, Greece, Israel, and the Greek Cypriot administration signed an agreement for the EastMed project to build a 1,900-kilometer (1,180-mile) natural gas pipeline that will run from Israel through Southern Cyprus, Crete, Greece and ultimately to Italy.
Turkey is a guarantor nation for Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration's unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.
In 1974, following a coup aimed at the annexation of Cyprus by Greece, Ankara had to intervene as a guarantor power. In 1983, the TRNC was founded.
The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all ending in failure. The latest, held with the participation of the guarantor countries -- Turkey, Greece and the U.K. -- came to an end without any progress in 2017 in Switzerland.