Azerbaijan started commercial natural gas exports to Europe via the U.S.-backed Southern Gas Corridor, helping the region to diversify supplies away from Russia. Gas pumped from the BP Plc-led Shah Deniz deposit in the Caspian Sea began flowing into Italy, Greece and Bulgaria on Thursday, BP and Azerbaijan’s state energy company Socar said in a joint statement. The European Union has worked for years to ease its dependence on Russia, which accounts for about a third of the region’s gas supplies.

“Some people were skeptical about the project” at the outset, Socar President Rovnaq Abdullayev said. “Now the mission is accomplished. Azerbaijan’s natural gas has arrived in Europe.”

Shah Deniz, which means King of the Sea in Azeri, is the nation’s largest gas deposit, containing about 1 trillion cubic meters of the fuel and 2 billion barrels of condensate, according to BP estimates. Azerbaijan plans to ship gas to more countries in Europe in the future as additional Caspian Sea fields start production.