Baku: The European Union is in talks with ex-Soviet Azerbaijan on providing gas to supply a key pipeline aimed at reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian supplies, the bloc’s energy chief said Tuesday.
“It is important for us to diversify gas routes to Europe. We are interested in deliveries of Azerbaijani gas and negotiations on this are ongoing,” EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs told a gas conference in the Azerbaijani capital Baku.
Azerbaijan is seen as a crucial potential provider for the Nabucco pipeline, a 3,300-kilometre (2,050-mile) pipeline between Turkey and Austria scheduled to be completed by 2014.
The pipeline is aimed at reducing European reliance on Russian gas supplied through Ukraine—a route that has seen chronic interruptions amid payment disputes between Moscow and Kiev.
Piebalgs said that the signing of a milestone accord on the pipeline between Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey in July had left no doubts about the EU’s commitment to the much-delayed, €7.9 billion ($11.5 billion) project.
“All of the political sides of this question have been resolved and now only commercial questions remain,” he said.
He said the EU was also seeking to cooperate with Central Asian states, including gas-rich Turkmenistan, in supplying Nabucco.
The head of Azerbaijani state energy firm SOCAR, Rovnag Abdullayev, told the conference Baku was keen to work out a deal on gas supplies with EU states.
“The political aspects are already behind us and now the priority is commercial questions,” he said. “We are conducting commercial negotiations with participants in the Nabucco project and hope that these negotiations will end successfully.”
Rich in oil and gas and strategically located between Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan has been courted by both Moscow and the West since gaining its independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Backed by Western governments, companies such as Britain’s BP have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the country’s energy sector, building a corridor of oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan through Georgia and Turkey to Europe.
Anxious to secure energy sources for its own export pipelines, Russia this year stepped up efforts to buy gas from Azerbaijan and in June clinched a deal to start purchasing 500 million cubic metres of gas annually.