Friday

21st Sep 2018

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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. UK's Brexit plan 'won't work', says EU's Tusk
  2. Austria ex-chancellor hints at running for Juncker's job
  3. Greece to move asylum-seekers from overcrowded Lesbos camp
  4. Transatlantic soya trade soars due to trade wars
  5. EU tables strategy for connecting Europe and Asia
  6. Bulgaria backs Hungary in dispute with EU
  7. Trump urged Spain to build Sahara wall to stop migrants
  8. EU-Arab League summit proposed for February in Egypt

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us