Turkey launched a $10bn (£6.8bn) project to pipe Azeri gas to Western markets on 17 March, forging ahead with a plan which could help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian energy.

The Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (Tanap) aims to carry 16bn m3 of gas a year by mid-2018 from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II field in the Caspian Sea, one of the world's largest gas fields developed by a BP-led consortium.

The 1,850km pipeline will stretch from Turkey's border with Georgia to Greece and is key to Turkey's ambition to cut its own dependence on Russian gas.

Ankara raised its stake in the project to 30% last year. Azeri state-oil firm SOCAR holds 58%, while BP has the remaining 12%.

Facing objections from the EU, Russia abandoned its $40bn South Stream project through which it aimed to deliver gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine. Moscow surprised the block by proposing a new undersea pipeline, dubbed "Turkish Stream".

Ankara's response to the project, which envisages piping gas to a hub on the Turkish-Greek border, has been lukewarm. Energy officials said Tanap remains their priority.

Initially, Turkey will buy the first 6bn m3 per year of gas from Tanap. A further 10bn m3 will be delivered to Europe once it is connected to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (Tap) by 2020. By 2023, Tanap's capacity will rise to 23bn m3 per year and then to 31bn m3 by 2026, according to project executives.

Caught off guard by Russia's surprise decision to ditch South Stream and its proposal to work with Turkey to build an alternative route, the European Union has repeatedly urged Moscow not to exclude it from the plans.