The Russian President Vladimir Putin joined the Turkish and Italian prime ministers in Turkey's Black Sea Port of Samsun Thursday to officially inaugurate the world's deepest undersea pipeline. The line has carried Russian gas to Northern Turkey for the past two years. Known as Blue Stream the pipeline crowns Russia's efforts to extend its influence in Turkey.

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, described the launch as an "historic moment" in Turkey's relations with Russia and Italy. Italian companies helped build the multi-billion dollar pipeline, which has been operating in fits and starts for the past two years.

"I hope this pipeline will not only carry gas, but peace, love and friendship," Mr. Erdogan said.

Flanked by President Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a beaming Mr. Erdogan says that Turkey would soon become a major hub for a network of oil and gas pipelines serving Europe and the Middle East.

Successive American administrations have warned Turkey, a key NATO ally, of the dangers of its growing dependence on Russia, which currently supplies 60 percent of the country's gas and 20 percent of its oil. Moscow is Turkey's second largest trading partner after the EU.

Although Turkey opened long-delayed membership negotiations with the EU last month and says it remains committed to its strategic partnership with America, Turkish leaders have been courting Russia in recent years.

Turkey and Russia are now discussing a project to build a pipeline that would run parallel to Blue Stream and be extended to loading terminals on Turkey's southern Mediterranean shores. Turkey is especially eager to build the line because it would ease pressure on the Bosporus straits that is heavily used by Russian oil tankers.
Turkey has been at the center of pipeline politics ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that led to the independence of the energy rich Turkic states in Central Asia and Azerbaijan. In a strategy designed to free those states from Russian influence and potential Iranian meddling, Washington has touted Turkey's secular free market democracy as a model.

Washington has also encouraged the construction of a network of pipelines that would enable these states to export their vast oil and gas supplies to Western markets via Turkey.