BAKU, Azerbaijan, June 16 (UPI) -- Building a gas corridor from Azerbaijan is just as vital for European energy security as it is Azeri economic development, a top European leader said in Baku.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso spoke before an audience at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy University, saying the country has undergone "radical and rapid change" since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
European leaders have said the huge volumes of natural gas off the coast of the former Soviet republic could help break Russia's grip on the European energy sector. The so-called Southern Corridor envisions a series of pipelines from Caspian reserves to the European market.
"This is a project that can encourage greater economic cooperation, improve energy security and create over 30,000 jobs in all countries along the corridor," Barroso said Saturday.
British energy company BP is leading efforts to draw natural gas from the Shah Deniz gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan. The company in May said most of the contracts for a natural gas pipeline to Europe have been awarded.
Pipeline construction is slated for January and should be completed by 2017.
Barroso's comments preceded a decision by Russian energy company Gazprom to send more gas through Ukraine only if Kiev pays in advance. Most of the Russian gas bound for Europe runs through Ukraine and similar disputes in 2006 and 2009 resulted in regional energy shortages.