Greece and Bulgaria have begun operations for a joint pipeline that will help Europe significantly reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas.
The roughly 113-mile Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline began commercial operations over the weekend, capping a 240 million euro (about $237 million) investment between the two nations.
The pipeline will carry around 1 billion cubic meters of Azeri gas from the Greek national system to Bulgaria, with plans to expand it to 3 billion and then 5 billion.
“This pipeline is a game changer. It is a game changer for Bulgaria and for Europe’s energy security. And it means freedom. It means freedom from dependence on Russian gas,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during an inauguration ceremony in Sofia.
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“Both here in Bulgaria and throughout Europe, people are feeling the consequences of Russia’s war. But thanks to projects like this, Europe will have enough gas for the winter,” she added.
Another European pipeline, the Baltic Pipe, also started operations at the same time, transporting gas from Norway’s North Sea deposits through Denmark to Poland.
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Russia cut gas supplies to Europe following sanctions related to the invasion of Ukraine, completely shutting down the commercial operation of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany until September. Moscow also cut off gas to Bulgaria and Poland after each nation refused to pay for Russian gas in rubles as the Russian economy crumbled under severe sanctions.
The shutdown, along with two years of pandemic shutdowns, extreme weather and other factors, sparked concerns about energy shortages and skyrocketing prices.
European leaders also became concerned about their energy security after a series of undersea explosions damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in what many have said could only be sabotage.
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The IGB pipeline, which was completed in July, gives something a lot–needed relief. It will transport gas to several nations in the Balkan region, including Serbia, North Macedonia, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.
“We have the opportunity to supply gas to the Western Balkans to ensure supplies to Moldova and Ukraine,” Bulgarian director Teodora Georgieva said, highlighting two nations Russia has targeted for annexation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month announced the partial mobilization of his forces, allowing him to introduce a draft of new troops as the invasion of Ukraine drags on longer than he had promised. The draft prompted the emigration of countless men from the country who wished to avoid military service.
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And Putin has made overtures to Moldova, particularly through its breakaway state of Transnistria, which has begun to follow a similar path to the Donbas region’s Luhansk and Donetsk, which Putin recognized as independent ahead of his invasion of Ukraine.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.