This weekend’s opening ceremony in Sofia of a gas pipeline of geostrategic importance will surely irk Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria opened on Oct. 1, 2020, and it is already operational.
It’s been 13 years since the start. Back in 2009, the gas Bulgaria was receiving was cut off by President Putin in the middle of winter, following the gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia. Bulgaria was getting its gas from the northern pipeline passing through Ukraine. As history shows, that was no longer an option. The need for an alternative gas pipeline came with the pressure. Energy diversification was an immediate, vital concern. Bulgaria needed to escape President Putin’s moods.
Fast forward 13 years to Oct. 1, and we get to the start of the pipeline connecting Azerbaijan, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Italy, with the potential for other European countries to join in the future.
The timing of the good news could not be better. It came a day after President Putin announced the outcome of the Russian referenda and the annexation of the occupied Ukrainian provinces.
The opening ceremony in Sofia, this weekend, was attended by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Layen, Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev, Bulgaria’s acting Prime Minister, Galab Donev, as well as the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the President of Serbia, Alexandar Vucic, the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, and the Prime Minister of Romania, Nicolae Ciuca.
“Natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria will break the strong grip of Russian gas on the region,” Greece Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said. He urged the EU to stand up against “Russian gas blackmail.”
The event was a cause for celebration. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev stressed the importance of the new gas link not only for Bulgaria, but for the continent, as reported by the Associated Press. “It decisively changes the energy map of Europe,” Bulgarian President Radev said. Ms von der Layen’s presence was a testament to the importance of the pipeline to all of Europe.
“This pipeline changes the energy-security situation for Europe,” von der Leyen said. “This project means freedom.” “People in Bulgaria and across Europe are feeling the consequences of Russia’s war [against Ukraine],” von der Leyen said. “But thanks to projects like this, Europe will have enough gas for the winter.”
The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, said that Azerbaijan will double gas exports to the European Union by 2027. Serbian President Vucic said at the ceremony that Azeri gas was seen as a luxury back in the days when the project started, not as a vital thing. He compared President Aliyev to a “rock star”, given the importance of Azeri gas to Europe right now.
The interconnector Greece-Bulgaria was built with EU funds. The European Commission committed nearly 250 million euros to finance the project, Ursula von der Layen said.
The 182-kilometer (115-mile) pipeline is designed to run from the northeastern Greek city of Komotini, where it links to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, to the town of Stara Zagora in central Bulgaria.
In late April, Russia cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria after Bulgaria refused Moscow’s demand to pay in Russian rubles. The new interconnector launch can give a break to Bulgarians worried about heating in winter, and couldn’t have a better starting date.
The new interconnector will deliver approximately one third of Bulgaria’s energy consumption. “This pipeline is a game changer. It’s a game changer for Bulgaria and for Europe’s energy security”, von der Layen concluded.
[Photo by president.az]
*Iveta Cherneva is an author and analyst in the fields of geopolitics, foreign policy, security and human rights. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.