IIn the spring, Bulgaria found itself in the middle of an energy swamp. The country had condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine but still relied heavily on Russian energy to meet its country’s demands. It was a bold move considering most of the natural gas was imported from Russia. In addition, the only oil refinery belonged to the Russian company Lukoil. As tensions between the two countries rose, Russian President Vladimir Putin halted gas supplies to the country. But the small country has not bowed to Putin; it worked around him.
The IGB project is a gas pipeline that will run 113 miles from Komatori, Greece to Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. It could also be one of Putin’s greatest unforeseen nightmares. The pipeline, which is expected to be fully operational by July, is a significant step in breaking away from dependence on Russian energy. It will be connected to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline and transport gas from Azerbaijan to the region.
While Sofia got 73% of its natural gas from Russia around this time last year, the latest data show a surprising turning point. Bulgaria has imported nearly 300 million cubic meters of gas from the Central Asian country. It’s a bold move from a country not known for its geopolitical leadership and whose population is half that of Pennsylvania.
In addition, IGB will also help to provide other energy sources. LNG has become a hot commodity, especially in the current pro-business era. LNG is considered the cleanest of all fossil fuels and an important resource in the energy transition planned worldwide.
With the European Green Deal, the European Union has committed to achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The IGB connection will play a crucial role in the delivery of LNG imports to the EU. When LNG shipments from countries like the United States or Qatar arrive at ports in the Aegean or Adriatic, this new pipeline will allow faster and more efficient delivery across the continent.
“The interconnector with Greece would allow us to get much larger amounts of gas than is now possible from Azerbaijan, which is currently coming through [TAP] and TANAP gas pipelines through the reverse connection with Greece,” said Assen Vassilev, Bulgaria’s deputy prime minister and former energy minister, last year.
More importantly, LNG is another important step in moving Bulgaria and the rest of the EU away from Russian energy. Earlier this month, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov announced the purchase of two shipments of LNG from the US for June. The countries will continue to work towards a sustainable long-term agreement.
Sofia’s purchase comes in addition to the 15 billion cubic meters of LNG the US has announced it will ship to the EU to transition from Putin’s petrostates.
“We have negotiated deliveries specifically for Bulgaria, which also shows the support of our partners,” said Petkov. Further LNG supplies will come from nearby countries such as Greece or Turkey, Petkov announced.
In a short period of time, Bulgaria has transformed itself from a minor player in the EU to one of the most important members in the field of energy. As the EU looked to alternative sources of energy following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ITUC connection is crucial for the continent to diversify its energy imports. In this way, Bulgaria has shown countries around the world what a world not dependent on Russian energy can look like and be a beacon of hope for other countries to do the same.