In a telephone conversation on March 5, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Russian president Vladimir Putin discussed meeting during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, the government press service in Sofia said.
Bulgaria holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU until June 30 2018. Russia’s presidential elections on March 18 are regarded as a foregone conclusion that will see Putin remain in power.
The conversation between Borissov and Putin came the day after the departure from Bulgaria of Russian Patriarch Kirill, who spent two days in the country for the 140th anniversary of its Liberation from Ottoman rule.
Kirill’s visit ended on a sour note, with him complaining about Bulgarian leaders who accorded Finland, Romania and Lithuania an equal place to Russia in the victory over the Ottoman empire in 1878.
A post on the official website of the Russian Patriarchate praised President Roumen Radev’s view of the Liberation but noted only tersely that Kirill had held talks with Borissov.
The March 5 government statement said that Borissov and Putin had discussed energy projects on the territory of Bulgaria.
Energy has been a contentious issue between Moscow and Sofia in the 10 years since Putin’s last visit to Bulgaria, when he signed agreements for three major energy projects – the Belene nuclear plant, the South Stream gas pipeline and Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline – all of which have at different points been shelved by previous Borissov administrations.
Borissov spoke to Putin about the priority of Bulgaria’s EU Presidency, the Western Balkans, emphasising the building of transport and digital connectivity in the region, and the development of electricity and gas transmission infrastructure.
Borissov told Putin about his idea of developing the Belene nuclear power station project as an all-Balkan plant and said that this had met with support from his colleagues from the Western Balkan countries.
Despite cancelling the project, Bulgaria had to pay for and take delivery of the two nuclear reactors built for Belene after losing an international arbitration case.
In recent months, Bulgaria’s government has been looking into ways to resurrect the project. Putin expressed readiness for his country to engage in discussions on renewing the project, the Bulgarian government statement said.
The Belene project was initiated three decades ago by Bulgaria’s communist regime. A previous Borissov government voted an end to the Belene project, but recently has revived talk of it.
The statement said that during the Borissov-Putin conversation, the development of Balkan gas hub and the possibilities for direct gas supply for Bulgaria under mutually advantageous conditions and with full guarantees from the European Commission were discussed.
In this connection, the construction of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline (the re-directed South Stream in all but name) was also commented on, while Putin said that the project was largely fulfilled. Borissov said that the interconnector between Bulgaria and Turkey was expected on June 1. There was also an option to build a deviation from the Turkish Stream pipeline, which reaches directly to the hub, the Bulgarian government statement said.
According to the statement, Borissov and Putin “underlined that the bilateral dialogue is developing well” and progress is being made in relations in a number of areas of the economy, trade and tourism.
It was reported that the turnover between Bulgaria and Russia increased by 24 per cent in 2017, while close to 560 000 Russian tourists visited Bulgaria, an increase of 1.3 per cent over 2016, the statement said.