SOFIA (AP) – Bulgaria opened a natural gas link with Greece at a ceremony on Saturday attended by the leader of the European Union’s (EU) executive arm, who emphasised the bloc’s determination to stop relying on Russian energy imports.
Speaking at a ceremony in Sofia, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the pipeline as an important contribution to limiting opportunities for Russia to use its gas and oil reserves to blackmail or punish the EU.
“This pipeline changes the energy security situation for Europe. This project means freedom,“ von der Leyen told an audience that included heads of state and government from the region.
The European Commission committed nearly EUR250 million to finance the project, she said.
The importance of the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria pipeline, which was completed in July, has risen significantly after Moscow decided to turn its natural gas deliveries into a political weapon.
A second European pipeline started operating on Saturday when fuel flowed through the new Baltic Pipe, which was built to carry gas from Norway’s North Sea deposits through Denmark and across the Baltic seabed to a compressor station in northwestern Poland. Its full capacity is expected to be reached next year.
Polish, Danish and Norwegian officials opened the pipeline on Tuesday in northern Poland, stressing its role for the region’s independence from Russian natural gas.
Russia has significantly cut some of its gas deliveries to Europe to demonstrate its opposition to sanctions the EU imposed over the conflict in Ukraine. In addition, huge methane leaks this week due to sabotage on the two undersea Nord Stream pipelines between Russian and Germany have exacerbated concerns about safeguarding Europe’s energy supplies.
In late April, Russia cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland after they refused Moscow’s demand to pay for the deliveries in rubles, Russia’s currency. In June, Bulgaria ordered the expulsion of 70 Russian diplomats, triggering an angry response from Moscow.
“People in Bulgaria and across Europe are feeling the consequences of Russia’s war. But thanks to projects like this, Europe will have enough gas for the winter,” von der Leyen said.
“Europe has everything it needs to break free from our dependency on Russia. It is a matter of political will.”
The 182-kilometre conduit runs from the northeastern Greek city of Komotini, where it links to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, up to Stara Zagora in central Bulgaria. Plans call for an initial capacity of three billion cubic metres of gas a year, and the prospect of future expansion to five billion cubic metres.