Leaders discuss energy at Black Sea Economic Cooperation summit in Istanbul

Heads of state and other dignitaries from 12 countries are expected to discuss Black Sea energy routes when they meet for a summit in Istanbul Monday marking the 15th anniversary of their organization.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is among those expected at the summit of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, or BSEC. The other members are Turkey, Greece, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldavia and Romania.

Following Monday's summit, the energy ministers of the member states will attend a three-day energy conference starting Tuesday.

BSEC aims to increase economic cooperation among the member states, whose combined oil and natural gas reserves come second only to those of Persian Gulf countries, the organization says.

Turkey, a founding member, has initiated pipeline projects to become an energy corridor between the oil- and gas-rich Caspian region and energy-hungry Western markets. An oil pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, through Georgia and on to Ceyhan, Turkey's Mediterranean oil hub, was opened last year. Construction of another pipeline that will carry Kazakh and Russian oil from the Black Sea coast to Ceyhan started in April and is expected to be operational in 2009.

However, Turkey's energy projects face financial questions and steep competition from Russia, which has assumed a central role in energy supply to Europe. Russia has projects or studies under way linking energy sources from the Black Sea and Caspian Sea to the European Union through Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary.

The EU imports more than 40 percent of its natural gas, and almost half of this comes from Russia. Some central and eastern European countries depend almost entirely on Russian gas.