ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Greek and Bulgarian prime ministers on Friday inaugurated a new energy pipeline that will supply natural gas originating in Azerbaijan to Bulgaria, whose vital supply of Russian gas was cut off in April amid the fallout over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stressed the importance of the new link as an alternative supply line for Bulgaria, as neighboring Greece is jockeying to become a regional energy transport hub.
“This isn’t just a gas pipeline, but a crucial south-north energy bridge,” Mitsotakis said during a ceremony in northeastern Greece.
Bulgaria’s acting prime minister, Kiril Petkov, highlighted the pipeline’s role in ending Russia’s gas monopoly in his country.
In late April, Russia cut off supplies to Bulgaria after officials refused a demand by Moscow to pay gas bills in rubles, Russia’s currency. Relations between the two former Soviet bloc allies have tanked in recent months, and last month Bulgaria ordered the expulsion of 70 Russian diplomats, triggering an angry response from Moscow.
The 182-kilometer (115-mile) pipeline inaugurated Friday will run from the northeastern Greek city of Komotini to Stara Zagora in central Bulgaria with an initial capacity of 3 billion cubic meters of gas, and the prospect of future expansion to 5 million cubic meters. Bulgaria is expected to start taking delivery in the coming weeks.
Greece is looking to serve as an energy hub for the Balkans, using fossil fuels from the Caspian and the southeastern Mediterranean, and, potentially renewable energy from Egypt, to supply the region amid the fallout of the war in Ukraine.
Greece is also building a liquefied natural gas terminal off the northeastern port of Alexandroupolis, near Komotini.