(Bloomberg) -- Azerbaijan can meet its target of doubling natural gas exports to Europe, President Ilham Aliyev said, even as his country has yet to secure the long-term sales deals it needs to invest billions to boost production.

The Caspian Sea nation’s gas exports to Europe will rise to 12 billion cubic meters (bcm) this year from 8 bcm in 2021, showing Azerbaijan is “confidently moving toward the goal” of doubling supplies by 2027, Aliyev said at the opening of a 170 kilometer (106-mile) pipeline connecting the Serbian city of Nis to the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital.

Read more: Serbia, Bulgaria Complete Gas Pipe to Reduce Reliance on Russia

Azerbaijan, which started selling gas to Europe in 2020, agreed last year with the European Commission to increase its volumes to 20 bcm over the next five years. 

It was approached by more than 10 European nations for gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but discussions have been inconclusive, Bloomberg has reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

Azeri Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov on Thursday declined to comment when asked about progress in talks with European buyers.

Serbia will be the seventh European country to receive Azerbaijani gas, Aliyev said in comments broadcast by the state news agency Azartac. The state energy company Socar agreed in November to export as much as 400 million cubic meters of gas to Serbia next year.

Exports to Bulgaria will grow to almost 1 bcm this year from 500 million cubic meters in 2022 and 270 million cubic meters in 2021, Aliyev said.

European buyers are hesitant to commit to fossil fuels for decades to come and other options, such as additional liquefied natural gas, from suppliers including Qatar and the US, will start flowing in the next few years. 

Unlike permanent pipelines, most new LNG infrastructure involves floating terminals, which can be disconnected and relocated elsewhere when demand shifts. 

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.