ANKARA, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- The presidents of Turkey and Russia will inaugurate on Jan. 8 the TurkStream gas pipeline, an ambitious project stretching across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey onto Europe, but now facing U.S. economic sanctions.
The Kremlin has announced that President Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey to attend the launching ceremony of the project, and is expected to have talks in Istanbul with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Diplomatic sources told Xinhua that Erdogan and Putin will discuss Turkish-Russian relations, including major projects, as well as the current situation in Syria, where the two countries are engaged in a difficult cooperation, and the delivery of Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems, a controversial purchase for which NATO member Turkey risks American sanctions.
"It will be the first face-to-face meeting of the two leaders of the new year to come, all matters of interest to the two nations will be on the agenda," said the source.
"TurkStream confirms Turkey's geostrategic position as an energy hub, coupling Ankara's ambitions in this field with Russia's drive to protect its share in the European Union natural gas market," added the source, pointing to the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), another gas pipeline recently inaugurated and pumping gas from Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey.
The two projects will make Turkey a transitory crossroads of natural gas and a vital role in the increasing European energy needs and security, but this will also spark fresh concerns over Russian gas dependency.
Despite regional rivalries, Turkey and Russia have operated a remarkable rapprochement in the past few years, especially on energy issues, amid fears that Ankara is shifting away from the traditional Western alliance.
Turkey's Energy Minister Fatih Donmez recently noted that Turkey wants to be an "energy center," which would bolster the country's international position by becoming a mega-transit state of natural gas to reach Europe while Turkey relies heavily on Russian gas imports.
Ankara and experts argue that the TurkStream pipeline is set to transform the buyer-seller nature of Turkish-Russian relations in a bid to make Turkey a joint provider of gas to European market.
The TurkStream pipeline runs from Gazprom's Russkaya compressor station, located near the southern city of Anapa, all the way to the Turkish northwestern town of Kiyikoy where it connects to other pipelines. Comprising two offshore parallel pipelines, it is expected to carry 1.1 trillion cubic feet of gas every year.
The ambitious project bypassing Ukraine was completed by Russian and Turkish companies. Its construction involved two specialized vessels to lay the pipes up to 2,200 meters deep underwater.
Separately, Serbia and Hungary are building another pipeline that will pump the gas from TurkStream and take it to Europe.
TurkStream's first line is intended for gas supplies to the Turkish market, while the second will carry gas to southern and southeastern Europe. The second line is expected to go from Turkey through Bulgaria, then to Serbia, Hungary, and Slovakia.
Meanwhile, the U.S Senate approved the National Defense Authorization act (NDAA) envisaging introducing sanctions on companies linked to TurkStream and Russia's pivotal natural gas pipeline project NordStream2 to Germany.
The bill also blocks the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey in response to Ankara's purchase of Russian missiles, which employ radar systems U.S. officials argue will pose a threat to NATO's state-of-the-art new stealth jets.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry blasted the decision as "disrespectful and hostile" to Turkey. Tensions have increased in the already strained relations between the two NATO allies which have several outstanding differences, particularly over Syria.
The U.S. administration has opposed the two gas pipelines, saying it would increase Russia's political grip on Europe. U.S. President Donald Trump has said that he would ratify the bill, a move denounced by Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the U.S. Congress of being "overwhelmed by the desire to do everything in its power to destroy our relations."
On Sunday, Erdogan threatened to close two military bases in Turkey used by U.S. forces if the U.S. sanctions go into effect, a move that weakened the Turkish lira to its four-month low amid ongoing tensions.