Russian gas company Gazprom has formally started construction of its 16 billion-euro ($ 20 billion) Europe-bound South Stream pipeline. The South Stream pipeline will connect Russia’s Black Sea coast with the Balkans, Austria and Italy, carrying up to 63 billion cubic metres of gas annually, According to Russian RIA Novosti news agency. Europe currently gets about two-fifths of its gas from Russia and the pipeline’s route bypasses Ukraine to ensure safe shipping of its gas. Pricing and payment disputes between Russia and Ukraine have caused major disruptions, cutting off gas for millions of customers in Europe. The project, funded by Gazprom, Italy’s Eni, France’s EdF and Germany’s Wintershall, is due to start operating in 2015. Gazprom holds 50 % in the joint company and is the main investor in the project. However, investors and industry experts have criticised the project as too costly. The pipeline will go under the Black Sea to reach Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria and Italy in one leg, and Croatia and Greece in a second. South Stream will be able to carry a third of the gas Europe currently buys from Russia.