Azerbaijan has started commercial natural-gas supplies to the European Union via the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), as the region seeks to diversify energy supplies away from Russia.
Gas pumped from the giant Shah Deniz 2 field in the Caspian Sea began flowing into Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria on December 31, Azerbaijan’s state energy company SOCAR said in a statement.
SOCAR President Rovnag Abdullayev hailed the development as a "historic day."
“Some were skeptical about this project. Now the mission is accomplished -- Azerbaijan’s natural gas has arrived in Europe,” he said.
The 878-kilometer TAP is a segment of the Southern Gas Corridor, which took more than $30 billion and seven years to build.
The overall project includes Shah Deniz 2, Azerbaijan’s largest gas deposit, and 3,500 kilometers of pipelines connecting the Caspian Sea with Western Europe via Georgia and Turkey.
Azerbaijan already supplies gas to Turkey and aims to supply European gas markets with 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year.
Analysts say Azerbaijani gas poses some threat to Moscow's share of the continent's gas market but is unlikely to change Russia's dominant position as a supplier.
Russia, which already accounts for about one-third of the region’s gas supplies, plans to raise gas exports to Europe, including Turkey, to 183 bcm in 2021 from more than 170 bcm this year.
Moscow has recently accelerated efforts to complete its undersea Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany, a project that stalled a year ago due to U.S. sanctions.
Washington has strongly opposed the project as threatening the security of NATO allies in Europe by increasing dependence on Russia.
Later on December 31, Azerbaijan's SOCAR announced that it had signed a long-term contract with the Belarus Oil Company to supply oil to that country.
Belarus has intermittently been at loggerheads with Russian officials in recent years over oil supplies that for decades have been supplied at a heavy discount.