Russia and Turkey have signed a deal on a gas pipeline that puts Ankara in a pivotal position over energy supplies to Europe.Prime Minister Vladimir Putin got Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s go ahead to start on the South Stream gas pipeline – part of which will lie in Turkish territory. Work should begin by next year at the latest. “It’s clear now that the South Stream pipeline is a reality, and it particularly important in the context of providing energy security for the whole of Europe, and in developing complex relations between Russia and Turkey. Our talks have shown that with Turkey’s leadership we can come to decisions that open the door to massive new energy projects,” Putin said in Ankara. Moscow wants to bypass Ukraine – currently a major gas transit route to Europe – and the source of disputes that have cut supplies. South Stream’s Turkish route might be more expensive – but it does not touch Ukraine. Italy’s energy giant ENI is a leading partner in the scheme – despite EU backing for another pipeline through Turkey – Nabucco. “In my opinion it would be more correct to describe Nabucco and South Stream as parallel rather than alternatives to each other. Furthermore, neither will be sufficient for Europe’s needs in the near future,” said Prime Minister Erdogan. The EU’s preferred gas pipeline project, Nabucco, gives Turkey a foot in both energy camps. Costing around 8-billion euros to build, it will have half the capacity of Russia’s South Stream pipeline. But crucially for a Europe that wants to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, Nabucco’s gas will flow from central Asia and the Middle East. Andrey Kortunov from the New Eurasia Foundation said: “Turkey is trying to take a balanced position, doesn’t want to become a hostage to Russia, therefore the Turks are supporting the Nabucco project. On the other hand, the Turkish government realises that Russia is a major strategic partner for Turkey, and therefore Turkey should support initiatives specifically in the energy field that comes from Moscow.” Turkey’s agreement on the Nabucco project has given it an extra hand-hold in its attempts to join the EU. And the South Stream deal with Russia shows it is also keen to be a key strategic player at the crossroads of energy supply.