* Serbia hopes for agreement between EU and Gazprom
* Serbia heavily dependent on Russian gas
* Serbia caught between EU ambitions, Russian ties
(Adds details, background)
By Ivana Sekularac
BELGRADE, June 5 Serbia said on Thursday it had
no plans to delay the start of construction of its leg of
Gazprom's South Stream gas pipeline, scheduled for
July, after the European Union this week asked Bulgaria to
suspend work on the project.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, says South
Stream breaks EU competition rules that prohibit gas suppliers
from also controlling pipeline access, and it has put on hold
the approval process for the project.
Policymakers in Europe are anxious to reduce the continent's
energy dependence on Russia - and particularly on gas from
state-controlled Gazprom - which has been starkly exposed by the
stand-off with Moscow over Ukraine.
Russia has forged ahead with the giant South Stream project,
which would transport 63 billion cubic metres of gas per year
through the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia
into Italy, starting by 2016-17. This would bypass Ukraine.
Serbia finds itself squeezed between its ambition to join
the EU, with which it has begun accession talks, and historical
ties with fellow Orthodox Christian Russia, which backed
Belgrade in opposing independence for its former southern
"There are no plans to delay construction," Energy Minister
Aleksandar Antic told Reuters.
But, he added, "The position of Serbia is not decisive. We
will follow developments and decide accordingly.
"I believe the European Commission and member states will
find a solution because this is a European project in the best
interests of energy security."
The Tanjug state news agency quoted an energy ministry
official on Wednesday as saying Serbia would act in accordance
with any future agreements between the EU and Gazprom.
Bulgaria, historically close to Russia and heavily dependent
on its gas, said it would continue with construction despite EU
Serbia put its oil and gas sector largely in the hands of
Gazprom in 2008, in a deal widely seen as a trade-off for
Russia's support of Belgrade over Kosovo.
Serbia consumes about 2.5 billion cubic metres of gas,
nearly all of which is imported from Russia through Hungary,
using a pipeline that goes through Ukraine.
Antic told Reuters a government commission has been formed
to look at all scenarios for the coming winter and prepare
Serbia for potential gas supply disruptions.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Matt Robinson and