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Bulgaria and Russia – joint energy projects

“Mutual benefit” and “trust” were key words during the meeting between Russian Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko and Bulgarian Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism Traicho Traikov on the future of the joint energy projects. Pressphoto: BTA
Bulgaria and Russia conducted at the end of last week in Sofia important negotiations on future joint energy projects. These projects were viewed with a dose of mistrust on the part of the new Bulgarian cabinet. What did the talks in Sofia lead to?
Above all, the importance of dialogue came to the fore; and of a concrete revision of relations in the energy sector and the perspectives of the three most important for Bulgaria /and for the EU/ energy projects. Word is here of the building of the second Bulgarian NPP on the bank of the Danube River at Belene, as well as the gas projects Nabucco and South Stream, whose lines pass through Bulgarian territory. During his first meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Gdansk, Poland, on September 1, Bulgarian Premier Boiko Borissov asked for time to get better acquainted with the projects. He received it and now he had the opportunity to discuss them with Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko. Premier Borissov and Bulgarian Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism Traicho Traikov accentuated during the talks on mutual benefit from these projects, on trust and future cooperation in the energy sphere between the two countries.

The largest project is that on the Belene NPP, which could become the first foreign nuclear plant with Russian participation. Besides Russia, which will provide the equipment, the German RWE would also be part of the project under a contract of acquiring 49% of the plant’s shares. That makes the project an all-European one. Russia wishes to buy a share from Bulgaria’s participation in the plant, which amounts at present at 51%. Sofia, however insists of preserving 20-30% of shares, thus keeping its blocking quota in the board of directors. Negotiations are yet to be carried on but in full transparency and observance of the interests of all sides. It transpired that Russia is ready to grant state subsidy for the construction under the form of a loan amounting to EUR 3.8 billion. A precise expert evaluation is to be made and Sofia’s final decision.

Talks in Sofia also focused on the two gas pipelines – Nabucco and South Stream, for carrying gas from Asia to West Europe. In the words of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov it was important for Bulgaria to hear Minister Shmatko admit that Moscow does not consider the two projects as rivals and that the participation of Bulgaria in both projects is not incompatible.

Another focus of attention during the talks was the construction of the Burgas-Alexandrupolis petrol pipeline. It should transfer Russian petrol from Bulgaria’s Black Sea port of Burgas to the Greek port of Alexandrupolis at the Aegean coast. Here differences of opinion refer to the expert assessment of the level of ecological risk for the region of Burgas, where the Russian petrol should reach the Bulgarian end of the line. There exist fears of possible pollution, which would jeopardize one of the most beautiful sand beach strips along the Bulgarian southern coast and the development of tourism in the region.

Responsible, unbiased and non-politicized – this is how the Bulgarian – Russian talks on energy held in Sofia can be assessed. Both countries agreed that transparency in the financing of some of the projects has previously been lacking. But that would not hamper the mutually beneficial future bilateral cooperation in the energy sector. This is the major conclusion drawn from Minister Shmatko’s visit to Sofia.

Written by: Dimitar Ushev
English version: Iva Letnikova

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