Crucial gas flows from the Caspian Sea to Europe are set to start within weeks after feuding neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia struck a ceasefire agreement, which was brokered by Russia after six weeks of heavy fighting in the fractious Nagorno-Karabakh region that has left thousands of people dead.
The deal was signed by Russia President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev on 10 November in a televised online ceremony, while Armenian Prime Minister Nicol Pashinan announced it on his Facebook page.
“The signed trilateral statement will become a (crucial) point in the settlement of the conflict,” Aliyev said.
In an address to the Armenian people, meanwhile, Pashinyan said that it was a painful decision, but was one made to prevent even worse outcomes.
He said it followed “an in-depth analysis of the military situation” that has seen Azeri forces closing in on Stepanakert, the region’s main city.
The agreement came hours after ethnic Armenian officials in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh confirmed that the key city of Shusha, the second-biggest city in the enclave, had been taken by Azeri forces.
Azerbaijan also said on Monday it had taken dozens more settlements, while Armenians confirmed that Nagorno-Karabakh was just days away from falling.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as being part of Azerbaijan, but has been under the control of ethnic Armenians since the end of a devastating conflict in 1994 that cost 30,000 lives.
Peacekeepers brought in
News of the ceasefire was welcomed as a victory in Azerbaijan and led to celebrations on the streets, while in the Armenian capital Yerevan people stormed the main government building and parliament calling on Pashinyan to quit.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has started the deployment of 1960 soldiers to act as peacekeepers.
As per the deal, they will be positioned along the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh and in the corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Aliyev said that Turkish peacekeepers will also be deployed, although this was not stipulated in the agreement.
First gas will start to pump to Europe soon
The settlement will be welcome news for stakeholders in Caspian Sea gas projects, with Europe set to be a key recipient of Azerbaijan's gas.
A BP-led consortium is nearing the of gas supplies from the Shah Deniz field in the Caspian later this month.
According to industry sources, the last link of the so-called Southern gas corridor – the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) — will be fully ready for commercial operations in mid-November.
The last required take-off points in Greece and Italy have been completed.
Soon, both Greece and the wider southeastern Europe region will be connected to the Trans Anatolian pipeline (Tanap) in Turkey and the Italian market, whose 2019 consumption reached 75.4 billion cubic metres of natural gas.
Italy’s gas grid operator Snam Rete has also completed an interconnection point in the southern Puglia region, meaning the system is ready to receive first gas as soon as commercial operations start.
In mid-October TAP was fully completed. TAP designed to transmit 10 Bcm of gas from offshore Azerbaijan to markets in southern Europe, thus reducing the dependence of Balkan states to Russian gas supplies.
Currently, Russia’s Gazprom supplies one-third of Europe’s gas needs.