POTI, Georgia, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- A natural gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the European market will enhance the geopolitical strength of the region, Georgia's prime minister said.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili was on hand for the opening of a transport terminal for the pipeline at the port city of Poti.
"The terminal as part of the Shah Deniz II project will transport the pipes and other equipment required for the expansion of the South Caucasus Pipeline through Azerbaijan and Georgia," he said in an interview published Sunday by the region's Trend news service.
Shah Deniz will deliver about 560 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year, with sales scheduled for Georgia and Turkey in 2018 and the rest to Europe the following year.
Europe views Shah Deniz as a means to diversify a natural gas market dependent on Russia. For Georgia, a former Soviet republic, it's part of a broader shift away from the Kremlin.
"This is one of the most difficult and complex energy projects, which will strengthen the geopolitical positions of Azerbaijan and Georgia," the prime minister said.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili vowed to move his country closer to the European Union and to repair ties with Russia, which were damaged when the two sides fought over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008.
BP, which leads the project's development, has awarded more than $1 billion in development contracts since selecting the Trans-Adriatic pipeline as its option for Shah Deniz last year.
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey play host to one of Europe's more important oil pipelines.