Ilham Aliyev attended inauguration ceremony of Serbia-Bulgaria gas interconnector

10 December 2023, 13:23
Ilham Aliyev attended inauguration ceremony of Serbia-Bulgaria gas interconnector

The inauguration ceremony of the Serbia-Bulgaria Gas Interconnector has been held in the Serbian city of Niš.

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, and President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev participated in the ceremony.

The event first featured the screening of a video highlighting the technical indicators of the Serbia-Bulgaria Gas Interconnector and underscoring the importance of the project.

Welcoming the ceremony participants, President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić said:

- Dear President Aliyev, and esteemed President Radev, I will not be able to speak today. Strange laws were enacted in our country as you may not boast about projects or anything you have done for your country, and speak about more development of the country a month before the elections.

I say “Welcome” and express my gratitude to you for being in Serbia. I will ask our energy minister to speak. She is not a member of our party and her name is not featured in elections and any lists. I offer my apology today to my European guests. I will respect all these laws. Do not worry as we will gain a victory notwithstanding these laws. This will be a great victory – the shared victory. Thank you for this.

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Addressing the event, Serbian Minister of Mining and Energy Dubravka Djedovic Handanovic highlighted the project.

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The President of Azerbaijan delivered a speech at the ceremony.

Speech by President Ilham Aliyev

- Dear President Vučić, dear President Radev, dear minister, ladies and gentlemen!

First of all, I would like to thank my friend Aleksandar for the invitation and the hospitality extended. I am very pleased to be visiting your beautiful country again. Let me note that I paid an official visit to Serbia last year. A month later, President Vučić visited Azerbaijan. Today, I am visiting your beautiful country again. This is further evidence that Serbian-Azerbaijani relations are developing rapidly and dynamically. We are strategic partners because the Declaration on strategic partnership has been signed between us, and we are demonstrating our commitment to this high status in words, documents, and deeds.

Unfortunately, President Vučić has been restricted from speaking at the official ceremony today, as he noted, due to an adopted law. However, we will have the opportunity to talk nonetheless. I simply want to say that our personal friendship with Aleksandar has greatly contributed to the development of Serbian-Azerbaijani relations. He is doing great things for his country. Under his leadership, Serbia is successfully developing and pursuing an independent policy, a policy that meets the interests of the Serbian people and state. We as his friends are always happy with his successes and are expanding our bilateral agenda with tangible steps and concrete works.

I am sure that after today's event and the opening ceremony, the operation of the interconnector will greatly contribute to the industrial development of Serbia. I know that President Vučić has large-scale plans for the development of the industrial potential of his country. Most of those plans have already been implemented. Of course, energy resources are required to implement these future plans and a diversified supply network must be established.

I can say the same about my friend, President Radev. We also have a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Bulgaria. This year, I visited Bulgaria and President Radev visited Azerbaijan. This shows that our relations are very dynamic and are based on friendship and strategic partnership.

In other words, I can say that today's ceremony is a ceremony of friendship, a ceremony of strategic partnership. Of course, I want to heartily congratulate both presidents on the occasion of today's opening. This is a project that can greatly contribute to the energy security of Serbia and Bulgaria. At the same time, I want to congratulate the people of Azerbaijan. Because Azerbaijan's gas export geography is further expanding. We currently export our natural gas to eight countries, and Serbia is the ninth country. Seven of these nine countries are European, and, of course, today's ceremony, the launch of the interconnector will make an important contribution to European energy security.

I must also inform you that the Memorandum of Understanding on strategic partnership in the field of energy was signed between the European Union and Azerbaijan last year, and this memorandum is being implemented. According to this memorandum, Azerbaijan is expected to double the volume of gas sent to Europe by 2027. The numbers already show that we are confidently moving towards this goal. In 2021, our gas exports to Europe were slightly more than 8 billion cubic meters and this year they will reach about 12 billion cubic meters. This accounts for 50 percent of Azerbaijan's total gas exports.

We also have other large-scale plans. Azerbaijan's overall energy strategy is being successfully implemented. The projects initiated and being implemented by us have greatly redrawn the energy map of Europe and Asia, or rather, Eurasia. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Supsa oil pipelines are delivering Azerbaijani oil to the markets of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions today. The Southern Gas Corridor, a huge infrastructure project with a length of 3,500 kilometers, makes a huge contribution to European energy security. It is no coincidence that the European Commission and its senior officials value Azerbaijan as a reliable partner and pan-European gas supplier. I must also say, and I am sure that my friend Rumen can confirm these words, that our gas supplies to Bulgaria started two years ago. In 2021, 270 million cubic meters of gas were supplied. A little more than 500 million cubic meters were supplied last year. This year, this number will be close to 1 billion cubic meters.

Azerbaijan is a reliable partner in the truest sense of the word. We are always loyal to the traditions of friendship and highly value friendship. It is the relations underpinned by friendship, mutual understanding, and strategic partnership that secure the interests of many countries, and cooperation in the gas field also creates a strong foundation for large-scale regional cooperation. The relations between Azerbaijan and countries of the Caspian basin, the Black Sea basin, the Mediterranean Sea basin, Europe, and the European Union – all these directions are developing in a positive way, and our plans will also serve these causes.

Our future plans, of course, are to further expand the geography of gas supplies and access the markets of new countries through new interconnectors in Europe. Our main goal is associated with renewable energy, as Azerbaijan has signed agreements and memoranda of understanding with investors for the establishment of 10 gigawatts of renewable energy.

A few days ago, we witnessed another manifestation of friendship. Both Serbia and Bulgaria, as well as other member states of the Eastern European Group, supported Azerbaijan's candidacy and voted for the COP29 conference to be held in Azerbaijan, Baku. This is yet another example of our friendship. At the same time, it shows that although Azerbaijan is rich in oil and gas resources, we see our future in the production and export of clean green energy. I am sure that the day will come when a similar ceremony will be held for green energy projects.

Let me once again thank my dear friend Aleksandar for the invitation and wish us all success. Thank you.

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Then, the President of Bulgaria made a speech.

Speech of President Rumen Radev

- Honorable President Vučić, Honorable President Aliyev, ladies and gentlemen, ministers, Excellencies, dear guests!

I would like to state that we as Serbia, Azerbaijan, and Bulgaria have been exemplary in the continuous work and attention being paid to these activities in the interests of a safer and better future. In early February, during the visit of President Vučić to Bulgaria, he launched the establishment of the Bulgaria-Serbia interconnector. Just a few months on, we are already conducting the opening ceremony of the interconnector between Bulgaria and Serbia.

In April, President Aliyev visited Sofia and launched the Solidarity Ring initiative.

I am sincerely grateful to President Vučić for this invitation. We express our gratitude for welcoming us in a more pleasant atmosphere than at the opening in Bulgaria in February.

We are not only connecting natural gas networks today because the Bulgarian-Serbian interconnector is not just an infrastructure project, it is a symbol of the growing technological capabilities of our countries, as well as the successful and beneficial cooperation involving Serbia-Bulgaria and Bulgaria-Serbia-Azerbaijan. Cooperation brings sustainable economic development and progress to our region. It is an expression of our desire to build for the future of Europe. It is an ambitious vision for secure and reliable energy sources for the European Union. I firmly believe that the interconnector will contribute to the growth of investment interests in the border regions, where these pipelines pass.

I want to congratulate President Vučić because he is very humble and does not praise himself. However, during each of our visits to Serbia, both I and President Aliyev witness the important development of infrastructure here. I see that hard work is being done here, that Serbia is an example of modern development in Europe, and this makes me very happy. As President of Bulgaria, I see a focus on the development of infrastructure and road networks in the border regions, and in the areas where the Bulgarian national minority resides. I also want to mention an unprecedented event. President Vučić and I have twice met with our national minorities in Mitrograd and discussed the problems together. We have identified projects and discussed opportunities to improve the standard of living together. The improvement and modernization of infrastructure in Serbia has a direct impact on Bulgaria because we can go to Europe through Serbia.

Today we are redrawing the energy map of Europe. Because the interconnector guarantees diversification and security not only for our countries but also for the entire region. It is no coincidence that this project was evaluated by the European Commission as a project of mutual interest.

The war in Ukraine has prompted us to reconsider our understanding of good neighborliness and mutual assistance and solidarity. We must not only find new resources, new ways, new efficient solutions in logistics and energy fields but also create a more intensive and stronger international map. The realization of the importance of this geographical position, the active energy policy will benefit not only these countries but also all neighbors and countries located further away from the region.

Let me once again thank presidents Vučić and Aliyev. They came to Sofia on October 1 to attend the opening ceremony of the interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria. Thanks to that interconnector, Bulgaria was finally able to receive Azerbaijani gas. We had an agreement 10 years ago. At that time, we could not physically receive gas from Europe or Azerbaijan. I want to thank President Aliyev. He proved that Baku treats all understandings and agreements seriously, although there were important changes 10 years ago. I always say in meetings with European colleagues that Azerbaijan is a reliable partner. I believe that we will continue to work in this way.

This year, Bulgaria finalized the agreement and gained access to LNG terminals, Greece and Türkiye. We also have agreements to conduct transit operations through their networks. In March, we inaugurated the energy terminal in Alexandroupolis. Bulgaria has a 20 percent stake in that project. In April, we inaugurated the Solidarity Ring project, which is strategically vital for Europe. By doing this, we are gaining the opportunity to connect our networks to achieve the fastest and cheapest gas transportation from Azerbaijan to Central and Eastern Europe. Thanks to this active policy of ours, we are holding the opening ceremony of the interconnector in Serbia today. Not only Serbia, but also other countries of the region have access to gas from Azerbaijan, as well as seven terminals, LNG terminal in the Mediterranean Sea, and, of course, the Solidarity Ring initiative, and the Chiren storage facility in Bulgaria. We are currently expanding the infrastructure in Bulgaria, which will also give us access to Western European gas resources.

We are proving today that only as a result of joint efforts and common determination can we achieve economic development and a better and safer future. Another important issue is that we will secure even greater achievements as a result of infrastructure development. As I said earlier, as a result of mutual understanding in our meeting with President Vučić this morning, we will improve the gas supply to meet our own needs. We will get the best conditions, offer the best prices to our citizens and jointly sell gas to third countries. There are vast opportunities here, and we will achieve significant results through good policies and good efforts.

I am grateful to the European Commission for providing financial support and also for promoting this important project for the whole of Europe. Of course, we are grateful to all institutions and construction workers for this success. They have proved that these two countries have the technological ability and can build the most high-tech pipeline of the next generation. I am grateful to all the teams that will work from now on. I wish them success and everyone productive work. Thank you very much.

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Highlighting the importance of the project, the head of the permanent EU delegation to Serbia Emmanuel Jofre noted that a significant milestone has been achieved in strengthening energy security and energy sustainability.

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Presidents Ilham Aliyev, Aleksandar Vučić, Rumen Radev, and head of the permanent EU delegation Emmanuel Jofre launched the Serbia-Bulgaria Gas Interconnector.

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