Bulgaria’s Parliament rejected on February 3 a motion tabled by ultra-nationalist party Ataka, which called for resuming construction on the South Stream gas pipeline, cancelled by Russia in December 2014.
Ataka leader Volen Siderov said that Bulgaria should take advantage of “changed geopolitical circumstances”, namely the strained relations between Moscow and Ankara after a Russian warplane was shot down near the Syrian border last year.
Building the pipeline would also “protect” Bulgaria from migrant flows and terrorism because the country would become part of a “protected territory”, Siderov said.
In recent years Ataka and Siderov became strongly pro-Russian in their public stance, but the motion failed to get any support even from the socialists, the other opposition party that traditionally argues in favour of closer ties with Russia. The vote on the motion was only backed by 27 MPs.
“It is not unlike changing the name of the deceased in order to resurrect them. There is no such project anymore, unless the colleagues from Ataka possess documents that we are not aware of, which state that this project is still ongoing,” said MP Tasko Ermenkov, one of the socialist party’s main spokespeople on energy issues.
In December 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the cancellation of South Stream, which was meant to bypass Ukraine and ship up to 63 billion cubic metres a year under the Black Sea, crossing South-Eastern Europe before reaching Italy, blaming the European Commission and Bulgaria for the project’s failure.
Since then, Russian officials have often reiterated that the project is over, occasionally echoing Putin’s criticism that Bulgaria scuppered it by failing to issue the necessary permits on time. State-owned gas company Gazprom, meanwhile, has bought out its partners in the company that was meant to build the offshore section of the pipeline and cancelled the construction contract, paying out hundreds of millions of euro in damages to contractor Saipem.
In Bulgaria, however, the Cabinet has repeatedly stated that it has never been officially notified of the project’s cancellation. Shortly after Putin’s announcement in December 2014, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that Bulgaria intended to build a gas storage hub to increase the security of gas supplies in South-Eastern Europe, expressing hopes that Russia would agree to serve as one of the suppliers of gas into the hub, but talks on the topic have accomplished little progress over the past year.
Meanwhile, reports in Bulgarian media have claimed that despite little work being done by the project company that was meant to build and operate South Stream’s section on the country’s territory, Bulgaria has rejected Gazprom’s proposals to wind down the company.