ATHENS, September 4 (RIA Novosti) - Russian companies may hold a controlling stake in an ambitious oil pipeline in the Balkans designed to bypass congested shipping lanes, the head of Russia's state-controlled oil company Rosneft said Monday.
The Russian, Bulgarian and Greek governments signed a memorandum on the construction of a pipeline stretching 280 kilometers (175 miles) from the Bulgarian port of Burgas to Greece's Alexandroupolis on the Aegean in April 2005.
"Russian companies, as companies that supply the pipeline with oil, may have a controlling stake," Rosneft boss Sergei Bogdanchikov said.
The project, which is expected to cost around $1 billion, will allow Russia to export oil through the Black Sea, bypassing the often crowded Bosporus Strait in Turkey. Initial throughput capacity will be 35 million metric tons annually (255 million bbl), before rising to 50 million metric tons (370 million bbl).
Bogdanchikov said the members of the pipeline building consortium were yet to be finalized, though he added that Rosneft, Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom, Russian-British oil venture TNK-BP, which coordinates the project for the Russian side, and other companies, were interested in the project.
Bogdanchikov said he believed the pipeline could be commissioned in 2009-2010.
He said he did not know whether U.S. Chevron would participate in the project, and said oil producer LUKoil has not voiced its interest in the project.
Bogdanchikov said the pipeline project was extremely important to Russia, as the country needs additional export routes. "It is important that it will be implemented in cooperation with other countries, which will make our consumers confident regarding the reliability of supplies," he said.
He said Russian companies would invest about $1 billion into the project.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking Monday at a meeting between the Russian, Bulgarian and Greek leaders in Athens, said the project was very important for Europe's economic development, as well.
"This project is extremely important not only to our three states, but also to Europe's economy and energy industry," Putin said.
Putin urged that a construction agreement be signed as soon as possible.
Bogdanchikov said the speeding up of the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline is not linked to the commissioning of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, but linked to the demand for oil in the world.
The Samsun-Ceyhan project was proposed by Italy's Eni and its Turkish partner Calik Group. The prospective pipeline, whose length will be 700 km (435 miles), will go via Turkey, from the Black Sea port of Samsun, to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.
It is designed to reduce the oil transportation load on the Black Sea straits of Bosporus and the Dardanelles, which is some 150 million tons (1.1 billion bbl) annually.