European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (in red) was joined by leaders from Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and North Macedonia at the opening in Sofia on October 1.
SOFIA -- A new natural-gas pipeline from Greece to Bulgaria has come into service, marking a significant step toward weening the country and others from a dependence on Russian energy imports.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was in Sofia for the occasion, said the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria pipeline would help limit Moscow's ability to pressure European Union members and other countries.
"This pipeline changes the energy-security situation for Europe," von der Leyen said. "This project means freedom."
The commissioning event was hosted by Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and was attended Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, as well as the presidents of Serbia and North Macedonia. Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Chuka also attended.
The project was first conceived in 2009, when Russia unilaterally stopped transiting gas through Ukraine, leaving Bulgaria and other countries in the region without gas for about a week.
The project became even more important in late April, when Moscow cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria after Sofia rejected a demand to pay for deliveries in Russian rubles.
"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."
"Europe has everything it needs to break free from our dependency on Russia," she added. "It is a matter of political will."
The 182-kilometer pipeline connects to the Trans-Adriatic pipeline, which supplies natural gas from Azerbaijan. It is initially projected to provide up to 3 billion cubic meters of gas annually, but could be expanded to up to 5 billion cubic meters in the future.
"Natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria will break the strong grip of Russian gas on the region," Mitsotakis said. He urged the EU to stand up against "Russian gas blackmail."
Bulgarian project director Teodor Georgieva said the new pipeline would enable Bulgaria to help supply gas "to the Western Balkans" and "to ensure supplies to Moldova and Ukraine."