Bulgaria’s Economy and Energy Minister Dragomir Stoynev said on March 13 that Sofia remained steadfast in its commitment to the South Stream gas pipeline project, which he once again described as “strategic”.
Stoynev said work on the Bulgarian stretch of the Kremlin-promoted pipeline – meant to bypass Ukraine, which Russia described as an “unreliable partner” even before the recent crisis in the country – continued at “an expert and technical level”, Stoynev told Bulgarian National Television’s (BNT) breakfast TV show.
The statement comes only days after European Union energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said that political talks with Russia on the future of South Stream in EU countries would be put on hold. (Oettinger’s spokesperson, Sabine Berger, later clarified that expert-level talks would continue unabated.)
Oettinger was given a mandate by several EU member states, including Bulgaria, and EU candidate country Serbia to spearhead the talks with Moscow on resolving the outstanding legal issues – as it stands, the proposed pipeline breaches several key provisions of the EU’s Third Energy Package regulations, which ban gas suppliers from operating pipelines as well.
In recent weeks, as the crisis in Ukraine has escalated and Gazprom dropped dark hints that the supply of gas to European customers was in peril, an increasing number of voices in the EU have called for reducing the bloc’s reliance on Russian imports (Gazprom accounts for about 30 per cent of Europe’s annual gas consumption).
Not so in Bulgaria, one of the countries that depends almost entirely on Russian gas, importing about 90 per cent of it from Russia – or, at least, as far as the country’s ruling axis is concerned – with government ministers lining up this week to throw their support behind the project, starting with the man in the prime minister’s seat, Plamen Oresharski, through Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin, and now Stoynev as well.
Stoynev said the other EU member states involved in the pipeline project shared a similar opinion. “All of us ministers from EU member states agreed on the position that work must not stop because this is a strategic project for all and it guarantees secure deliveries of natural gas,” he told BNT.
“The problems is that if this project is not carried out, we will continue to depend on conflicts like the current one. This project is not for Bulgaria, it is for Europe. Additionally, it will have an enormous economic effect, because it will cross Bulgaria’s poorest region,” he said.
(Dragomir Stoynev. Photo: Economy Ministry)