Croatia joins Kremlin-backed South Stream pipeline.
Croatia on Tuesday joined the Russia-backed South Stream pipeline project that will run under the Black Sea to supply a handful of south European countries.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his visiting Croatian counterpart, Jadranka Kosor, oversaw Tuesday's signing ceremony in Moscow. Croatia imports 40 percent of its gas from Russia.
South Stream is funded chiefly by Russia's Gazprom and Italy's Eni. Construction of the pipeline is expected to start this year and be completed by 2015, carrying natural gas to Central and Western Europe while bypassing Ukraine.
Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy have also signed onto the deal. Gazprom has said it expects Austria to sign up as well.
"The project's benefits to its participants are obvious," Putin said. "First of all, this means stable energy supply for Europe and purely financial gains."
Pricing disputes between Russia and Ukraine, a key transit country, caused gas shortages in Europe in early 2009 and made Russia more determined to seek energy routes bypassing Ukraine.
Russia is now waiting for Turkey to give the green light for the pipeline to pass under its waters. Putin said in January that Turkey had assured him it would issue the approval by November.