Monday

10th May 2021

US to help Bulgaria reduce dependence on Russia

  • Kerry (c) looks at frescos in Bulgarian church (Photo: state.gov)

The US has promised to help Bulgaria reduce energy dependence on Russia, as Europe digests Gazprom’s latest announcement on EU gas supplies.

Secretary of state John Kerry, on a visit to Sofia on Thursday (15 January), said he will post a US envoy on energy security to Bulgaria and mobilise the Export-Import Bank of the United States to help pay for investments in nuclear energy, liquid gas, and gas interconnectors.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

He also said he’s urged EU institutions to provide “rapid European … commitments to try to resolve this energy challenge”.

He welcomed Bulgaria’s decision, last year, to halt construction of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline.

“I know the people of Bulgaria are anxious about what the meaning is in the aftermath of the South Stream decision … that’s why we’re deeply committed to helping your government, which has made difficult decisions, but we think strong decisions”, he told press after meeting PM Boyko Borisov.

With Bulgaria relying on Russia for 100 percent of its gas supply, he added: “the importance of diversifying the energy supply – that is not directed against any country [Russia]. It’s simply a reality. No country in the world should be totally dependent for its energy supply on one other country”.

But he warned Moscow, which has strong ties in Bulgaria’s business and political elite, not to meddle in its internal affairs.

“Whether or not Russia were to choose, for whatever reason, some other form of retribution [against Bulgaria for its South Stream decision] is obviously something to be seen as we go forward”, he said.

“We stand ready … to be supportive of Bulgaria in this time of economic and security challenge.”

He also urged Bulgaria to do more to fight corruption in order to protect its sovereignty and to attract foreign investors.

“It’s about providing the climate for investment and shielding the country from those who exploit the situation to gain undue influence over your choices as a sovereign nation”.

For his part, Borisov welcomed Kerry’s support for US firm Westinghouse to expand the Kozloduy nuclear power plant.

He noted there is currently an environmental “moratorium” on exploration of Bulgaria’s shale gas reserves.

He also floated the idea of external support for Bulgaria to build a gas-trading “hub” on its border with Turkey.

The hub scheme arose after Russia last month said it would build a new pipeline to Turkey instead of South Stream.

The CEO of Russian gas firm Gazprom, Alexei Miller, added in Moscow on Wednesday that when “Turkish Stream” is built, he will divert EU transit volumes from Ukraine - some 80 percent of Russia’s EU gas sales - to Turkey.

Borisov noted the hub idea is relevant only “if, of course, that project that we’re hearing about between Turkey and Russia comes to fruition”.

His comment reflects widespread scepticism the Russia-Turkey pipeline will come to be.

For its part, the European Commission said on Thursday “at this moment this is an expression of intent, we need to study this further”.

Andriy Kobolyev, the CEO of Ukrainian gas distributor Naftogaz, went further.

He said the Turkish project “makes no economic sense”.

“It would abandon a perfectly well-functioning and reliable system in favour of investing billions of euros into a new one – a cost that would ultimately be paid by European households and businesses”.

“This threat is a political bluff.”

Turkish silence

Ukraine’s EU ambassador, Konstantin Yeliseyev, told EUobserver that Turkey also appears sceptical: “What’s important, is the Turkish reaction [to Miller’s announcement]. Until now, the Turkish side is silent”.

The silence continued on Thursday when the Turkish PM, Ahmet Davutoglu, met press and EU officials in Brussels.

He said nothing on the Russian plan, noting only the EU should open the energy chapter in its accession talks the better to discuss the situation.

“It's very strange", he said, that the chapter, which is being blocked by Cyprus over a decades-old territorial dispute, remains closed.

A Turkish source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russian pipeline is unlikely to be built because Russia can’t afford it.

He added that if it is built, onward shipments of Russian gas into the EU would still be subject to EU anti-monopoly laws - the same reason Russia abandoned South Stream.

“Frankly, nobody in Turkey is taking it very seriously. People aren’t holding their breath,” he noted.

“In the present climate, the Russians feel isolated. So they have the same reflex as the Iranians used to have - to announce some kind of new project with Turkey, and the whole idea is to show they still have international partners”.

Russia to cut EU gas transit via Ukraine

Russia has said it will stop EU gas transit via Ukraine and do it via Turkey instead in the second shock announcement on energy in as many months.

Opinion

Bulgaria’s turn to the West

High-profile visits by John Kerry and his British counterpart Philip Hammond have left many puzzled why Sofia is suddenly in the spotlight.

EU raises alarm on Bulgaria corruption

Seven years after joining the EU, Bulgaria has done little to curb corruption and organised crime in a threat to its sovereignty and to European unity.

News in Brief

  1. Lukashenko amends emergency transfer of power
  2. German centre-left picks Scholz as would-be chancellor
  3. EU has not ordered AstraZeneca vaccines beyond June
  4. Macron: Pandemic showed need for more EU integration
  5. Election win fuels Scottish nationalists' referendum plan
  6. Surge in migrant arrivals to Italian island
  7. EU embassy pays bail for Georgia opposition leader
  8. British aristocrats caught peddling Kremlin ties

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU and US urge Israel to defuse Jerusalem violence
  2. Frontex 'mislabelling minors as adults' on Greek islands
  3. Has Albania really met the 15 tests to join the EU? No
  4. Vaccine fairness plus Russia on table This WEEK
  5. EU ambassadors flock to Red Square for Putin's parade
  6. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  7. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  8. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us