Europe activates two new pipelines, decreasing reliance on Russian gas ahead of winter crunch: report

The European Commission's president said the pipelines mean 'freedom' from Russia

Greece and Bulgaria have commenced operations for a joint pipeline that should help Europe significantly decrease its dependency on Russian oil and gas. 

The roughly 113-mile Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline started commercial operations over the weekend, capping off an investment of 240 million euros (approximately $237 million) between the two nations. 

The pipeline should carry around 1 billion cubic meters of Azeri gas from the Greek national system to Bulgaria, with plans to expand that to 3 billion and then 5 billion. 

"This pipeline is a game changer. It's a game changer for Bulgaria and for Europe's energy security. And it means freedom. It means freedom from dependency on Russian gas," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during an inauguration ceremony in Sofia. 

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Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov speaks during the inauguration ceremony of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) gas pipeline that will carry gas from Komotini to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, in Komotini, Greece, July 8, 2022. 

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov speaks during the inauguration ceremony of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) gas pipeline that will carry gas from Komotini to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, in Komotini, Greece, July 8, 2022.  (Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis)

"Both here in Bulgaria and across 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. 

A second European pipeline, the Baltic Pipe, also commenced operation at the same time, carrying gas from Norway’s North Sea deposits through Denmark to Poland. 

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Russia decreased gas deliveries to Europe following sanctions related to the invasion of Ukraine, completely shutting off commercial operation of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 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 floundered under severe sanctions. 

The shutdown, along with two years of pandemic shutdowns, extreme weather and other factors sparked concerns of an energy shortage and skyrocketing prices

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Bulgarian counterpart Kiril Petkov pose for a picture during the inauguration ceremony of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) gas pipeline that will carry gas from Komotini to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, in Komotini, Greece, July 8, 2022. 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Bulgarian counterpart Kiril Petkov pose for a picture during the inauguration ceremony of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) gas pipeline that will carry gas from Komotini to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, in Komotini, Greece, July 8, 2022.  (Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis)

European leaders also grew concerned about their energy security after a number of undersea explosions damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in an act that many have said could only be sabotage. 

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The IGB pipeline, which completed construction in July, provides some much-needed relief. It will ferry gas to several nations in the Balkans region, including Serbia, North Macedonia, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. 

A member of the staff stands over part of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) gas pipeline that will carry gas from Komotini to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, in Komotini, Greece, July 8, 2022. 

A member of the staff stands over part of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) gas pipeline that will carry gas from Komotini to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, in Komotini, Greece, July 8, 2022.  (Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis, File)

"We have the opportunity to supply gas to the Western Balkans, to ensure supplies to Moldova and Ukraine," Bulgarian executive Teodora Georgieva said, highlighting two nations that Russia has targeted for annexation. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin last month announced the partial mobilization of his forces, which allowed him to enact a draft of fresh troops as the invasion in Ukraine drags on longer than he had promised. The draft prompted the exodus of countless men from the country who want to avoid military service. 

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And Putin has made overtures toward Moldova, particularly through its breakaway state of Transnistria, which has started to follow a similar path as the Donbas region’s Luhansk and Donetsk, which Putin recognized as independent prior to his invasion of Ukraine. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.