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Bulgaria, Serbia break ground on pipeline aimed at easing Russian gas dependence

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, have launched the construction of a gas pipeline that will link the two countries and help ease the region’s dependence on Russian supplies, which have become less reliable amid Moscow’s war against Ukraine.

Attending a groundbreaking ceremony in the Bulgarian town of Kostinbrod on February 1, the two leaders shook hands where one end of the 170-kilometer link — 109 kilometers of which will run through Serbia — will be built.

“This is a big thing, a European project. We will supply other countries via our country,” Vucic said.

The link, which will have a capacity of 1.8 billion cubic meters of gas annually, will allow gas from Azerbaijan to flow all the way to Western Europe, while also giving Serbia access to liquefied natural gas coming through from ports in Greece.

“It gives new opportunities to the region through real diversification and security of deliveries,” Radev added.

In a show of the link’s regional importance, European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson also attended the ceremony. The 85.5-million-euro project will receive 25 million euros from the European Investment Bank (EIB), as well as 49.6 million euros in co-financing by the European Union. Serbia will supply the rest of the funding needed to complete the pipeline.

Even before the effect of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on gas supplies to Europe, Bulgaria and Serbia have tried to diversify from a deep reliance on Russian supplies.

In 2009, the two countries were hit hard by a dispute between Russia and Ukraine over pricing that slashed deliveries and left many in Europe cold over the winter.

Sofia then moved quickly to establish a link with Greece to begin accepting supplies from Azerbaijan.

That gas pipeline is part of a broad EU initiative called the Southern Gas Corridor, which aims to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. The main source of supply would be the Shah Deniz gas field located in the Caspian Sea, in territory belonging to Azerbaijan.

While Bulgaria has been critical of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, Serbia, a traditional ally of Russia, has maintained good relations.