SOFIA (Reuters) - The gas network operators of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia have proposed shipping additional natural gas supply pledged by Azerbaijan to Europe, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said on Friday.
The EU is seeking alternative suppliers to Russia because of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a meeting with Azeri President Ilham Aliev, Radev said the four European Union countries have offered their networks to allow for faster and cheaper shipments of Azeri gas to central, western and southern Europe.
The European Commission in July signed a memorandum of understanding with Azerbaijan to double imports of Azeri natural gas to at least 20 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year by 2027.
"In the coming years we will at least double the production and export to Europe. We have the resources," Azeri President Ilham Aliev told reporters, pointing that his country has long been a reliable partner and supplier.
The Trans-Adriatic pipeline, the final leg of the Southern Gas Corridor pipeline network, last year brought more than 8 bcm of Azeri gas into European countries such as Italy. Azerbaijan plans to raise the imports by 40% to 11.2 bcm this year.
Bulgarian President Radev said another route could be faster and cheaper to take on some of the extra volumes.
"What is being offered will allow ... transport immediately of Azeri supplies through the integrated gas networks of these countries," Radev said.
Radev will discuss the idea with other Balkan leaders and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who arrives in Sofia on Saturday for the official launch of a gas link between Bulgaria and Greece that will initially transport 1 billion cubic metres of Azeri gas per year to Bulgaria.
"I am certain that it would allow not only Azeri gas to come to Bulgaria but also to Europe in bigger volumes and will support the energy security of the European continent as a whole," Aliev said.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Jason Neely and Louise Heavens)