December 17th, 2013
03:12 PM GMT
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(CNN) - We are aware of the saying “keep all your options open.” Europe is doing just that with a landmark $28 billion natural gas pipeline agreement signed in Baku Tuesday which will open up what is called the Southern Gas Corridor in 2018.

The nearly 20 heads of state, ministers and commissioners did not go out of their way to make the Russian connection with Ukraine as a reason to forge ahead, but one cannot overlook the motivation.

The deal was signed in Baku on the very day Vladimir Putin met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to potentially define how Russia may step up assistance to Kiev.

After being frozen out in the winters of 2006 and 2009 with interruptions to gas supplies from Russia through Ukraine, the European Union has stepped up efforts to complete the agreement which was first drawn up in 1996.

Azerbaijan came onto the energy scene when it launched the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan or BTC oil pipeline from Baku to the southern Turkish port of Ceyan with political backing from the United States.

Read more: Will Iran gas deal unleash 'Germany of the Middle East?'

This pipeline network will cover more than 3500 kilometers and stretch from Baku to Italy. BP and Norway’s Statoil are the lead investors taking 25.5% each in the partnership with a handful of others including the Azeri state energy company SOCAR.

Unlike a number of pipeline agreements that have been drawn up, this one will launch with at least nine customers from the heart of Europe guaranteeing revenue when the taps are officially opened up in 2018.

Azerbaijan sits on roughly 1% of the world’s proven gas reserves, so it is not a major player yet. But this production from the Shah Deniz 2 field will double its output by the end of the decade according to Azeri officials.

Read more: Flame towers light up Baku's historic skyline

Russia may not be thrilled about this effort by the European Union to diversify gas supplies, but with 17% of proven gas reserves it will not be unseated as the major supplier to Eastern and Western Europe.

December 17th, 2013
03:05 PM GMT
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Sheraton Hotels & Resorts CEO Frits van Paasschen argues that technology and design can help improve the hospitality experience for customers. CNN's Maggie Lake reports.

December 17th, 2013
02:59 PM GMT
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Mezcal, a Mexican liquor, is produced in an old-fashioned way to focus on quality instead of quantity. The hard liquor, which has been around for decades, has no added chemicals, and producers say there are no negative morning-after effects. CNN’s Rafael Romo tries it out.

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