* EU welcomes Sofia's suspension of work on South Stream
* Russian envoy sees EU moves as "economic sanctions by
(Releads, adds Russian EU envoy comment)
By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA, June 9 Bulgaria has not given up on plans
to build the South Stream pipeline to deliver Russian gas to
Europe and believes the Gazprom-led project will be
completed once issues over its structure are resolved, Energy
Minister Dragomir Stoynev said on Monday.
Designed to bypass Ukraine, the pipeline has raised tensions
between the European Union and Russia after Brussels asked Sofia
last week to suspend work pending a decision on whether it
complies with EU law.
Bulgaria, the EU's poorest member and almost
wholly-dependent on Russian gas - said on Sunday it had halted
work on the pipeline.
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's envoy to the European Union, said
on Monday EU moves against the Moscow-led South Stream pipeline
project could be considered as "economic sanctions by stealth,"
Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.
State-controlled Gazprom is pushing ahead with the project,
expected to be cost around $45 billion, despite Western
sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.
Stoynev said he was certain South Stream would be built once
disputes over how to structure it as a European project were
cleared. "If we look at the situation strategically and without
emotions, the South Stream project looks irreversible and
important for both Europe and Bulgaria," Stoynev, who is on a
visit to China, said in a statement.
"I am convinced that all pending issues will find a
South Stream will be able to pipe 63 billion cubic metres of
gas per year from Russia via the Black Sea and Bulgaria into
central and southern Europe, bypassing Ukraine, as Russia seeks
to cement its position as Europe's dominant gas supplier.
European Commission spokeswoman Sabine Berger declined to
comment on Stoynev's statement, but welcomed EU member
Bulgaria's decision to suspend work on the project.
"This is an important step in response to the concerns
raised by the Commission last week," she said. "The European
Commission has called for a discussion on South Stream at the
upcoming European Council so that a common EU approach can be
Washington has warned Sofia that picking a consortium led by
sanctions-hit Stroitansgaz to build the Bulgarian section of the
pipeline could result in sanctions on Bulgarian companies
Bulgaria's Stoynev, a staunch supporter of the project, says
it will boost the country's energy security and economy.
Bulgaria currently gets almost all of its gas from Gazprom via a
pipeline through Ukraine.
"We really are actively working to close the open issues
with the European Commission, meaning that we have not abandoned
the project," Stoynev said.
In neighbouring Serbia, Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic
said the government had decided not to halt development of its
stretch of South Stream.
"We will continue to monitor the situation and liaise with
the government ...honouring obligations we took on our path to
European Union membership," Antic told Reuters.
"The South Stream project is of major importance for
(Serbia's) energy security and I believe that the talks between
EU, Russia and countries that participate in the project will
clarify the situation," Antic said.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels, Aleksandar Vasovic and
Ivana Seklularac in Belgrade, and Katya Golubkova and Vladimir
Soldatkin in Moscow; editing by Jason Neely and Jane Merriman)