Bulgaria Deals Russia Setback Over Gas Pipeline Project

Photo by EPA/BGNES.

From Financial Times


Bulgaria's prime minister has halted work on a new Russian-led pipeline that would provide a route around Ukraine for Russian gas into Europe, dealing a setback to Kremlin efforts to strengthen its hold on EU energy supplies.

The pipeline project, known as South Stream, would bring Russian gas from the Black Sea to Austria through Bulgaria, circumventing the substantial Ukrainian pipeline network that serves as the conduit for most of the gas sent to Europe by Russia's state-controlled Gazprom.

Brussels, which has long viewed South Stream as at odds with its efforts to diversify the bloc's gas supplies, last week launched an investigation into the project, citing questions about how public contracts were awarded.

Meanwhile, EU and US officials have raised geopolitical concerns about Sofia moving ahead with the project at a time when Ukraine crisis has heightened tensions between Moscow and the EU over Russian gas.

South Stream would increase Moscow's leverage over Kiev by allowing it to threaten a shut-off without the risk of imperilling supplies to customers in central Europe. Construction on the Bulgarian branch of South Stream was to begin this month.

"[This] shows that we mean business," said José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, in announcing the inquiry.

Plamen Oresharski, Bulgaria's Socialist prime minister, said he would suspend construction to ensure the plan complies with EU law. "We have received a request from the European Commission, after which I ordered the works suspended," Mr Oresharski said, according to Russia's Itar-Tass news service. "Further actions will be clear after additional consultations with Brussels."

US diplomats have expressed...

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