Russian construction contractor Gazstroyprom has started the commissioning phase of a new gas transit pipeline in Serbia that will provide a long-anticipated link for its partner Gazprom to supply Russian gas from Turkey to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

The 403-kilometre pipeline in Serbia is currently being filled with natural gas to enable the formal start of its operation at the end of this year, according to Moscow news agency Interfax which quoted unnamed sources close to the project.

Last week, Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic said that the pipeline is scheduled to begin pumping Russian gas between 29 December and 30 December, refuting earlier reports that the start-up of its operations may be pushed into next year because of the slow construction of a major pumping station.

Gazprom is planning to use a second line of its subsea export infrastructure across the Black Sea to Turkey, TurkStream, to deliver about 15 billion cubic metres of gas to a border point between Turkey and Bulgaria.

Russian gas will then flow about 480 kilometres across Bulgaria before entering Serbia.

Connectors to major consumer centres in both countries will permit Gazprom to supply gas to them under its existing contracts in these countries without using an old transit route, known as the Transbalkan pipeline, running from Russia across Ukraine and Romania to Bulgaria.

Last year, Serbia imported more than 2.1 Bcm of Russian gas via the old route.

However, the country bought less than 1 Bcm of Russian gas between January and October 2020 because of the Covid-19 demand contraction and a sharp reduction in Russian gas supplies across the Transbalkan pipeline from January.

Though demand for Russian pipeline gas in Europe that is delivered solely by Gazprom because of its monopolistic position has recovered during the fourth quarter after a slump in the first half of this year, the gas giant is anticipating a 16% decline in its European gas export shipments to just over 184 Bcm in 2020, according to Russian officials.

With many billions of dollars invested by Gazprom into new gas export pipelines over the last decade, officials have reiterated the view that authorities only expect global gas consumption to grow in the next 25 to 30 years despite the ongoing switch to renewable sources of energy.

Speaking last week in Moscow, deputy energy minister Pavel Sorokin said that Russia has annual production capacity of 1 trillion cubic metres of gas that could meet any projected demand spike.

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