* South Stream is strategic, priority project for
* Pipeline construction in Bulgaria to start this year
* Bulgaria to fight for Gazprom-led project to go ahead
(Adds official quotes, details)
By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA, April 17 Russia's South Stream pipeline
project must not be blocked for political reasons and Bulgaria
plans to start construction this year despite the standoff
between the West and Moscow over Ukraine, Bulgaria's energy
minister said on Thursday.
The future of the 2,400-kilometre (1,490-mile) pipeline from
Russia via the Black Sea to southern Europe, avoiding Ukraine,
has been cast into doubt since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's
In an emotional news conference in Sofia, Dragomir Stoynev
accused fellow European Union members of a politically-motivated
attempt to scupper the project, and urged the bloc to understand
the effect that doing so would have on its members.
The outburst underscored the difficulty that the EU and the
United States face in coming up with a united response to
Russia's intervention in the Ukraine.
Bulgaria is both an EU and NATO member but has close links
to Moscow and is almost entirely dependent on Russian energy
supplies, making it wary of punishing Russia with tough economic
Bulgaria, which meets almost all of its gas needs with
imports from Russia's Gazprom via only one route
through Ukraine, would be a major beneficiary of the pipeline.
"South Stream is a long-term infrastructure project of
strategic importance. Now they (the European Parliament) want to
stop South Stream. How are we to develop? This crisis at the
moment shows that we do not have security of natural gas
supplies for Bulgaria," Stoynev told reporters.
"Bulgaria is part of the European family, meaning that we
must comply with European policies. But solidarity is one of the
key principles on which the European Union was set up. The
European Commission should take into account of the negative
effects for each member state of its future actions," he added.
The Ukraine crisis has intensified EU efforts to reduce
energy dependence on Russia, while Moscow has long sought to
curb its reliance on Ukraine as the main pipeline route for
sending Russian gas to Europe, its biggest market.
The European commissioner for energy, Guenther Oettinger,
said in March that discussions with Russia over South Stream's
regulatory approval in the European Union were on hold.
But Stoynev said Bulgaria will fight for the project, urging
the EU to consider diplomatic measures to solve the Ukraine
standoff. He also said Bulgaria should be compensated in the
event that the standoff sparked an energy supply crisis,
complaining that the EU had not done so during a previous row
between the Ukraine and Russia in 2009.
"Can you tell me what compensation Bulgaria got in 2009 from
the European Commission, when the effects of 14 days of cut
supplies caused losses of 500 million levs (250 million euros)?
I will tell you - Zero. And now you want us to sit still, to
keep our heads down?" he said.
Stoynev also suggested that instead of blocking South
Stream, European Commission could instead decide to stop Russian
gas imports via the North Stream to west Europe.
"Why, for example we do not cut gas supplies through North
Stream? This is one concrete measure. Why? But it seems that
South Stream should be sacrificed and we have to put up with it.
No, Bulgaria, this government will stand up for the national
Bulgaria has yet to connect its gas network with
neighbouring countries to diversify its gas supplies. It has
speeded up work on a gas link with Greece, through which it
would be able to get Azeri gas when Shah Deniz II field becomes
operational in 2019.
South Stream would carry around 60 billion cubic metres
(bcm) of gas a year to Europe towards the end of the decade,
enough to meet more than 10 percent of its annual demand.
The South Stream consortium is led by Gazprom. One of
Gazprom's main partners in the project, Italy's Eni,
has said the future of South Stream has been put in question by
the escalating dispute over Ukraine. The EU has also postponed
clearing the project.
"Tell me, are we wrong? Are we wrong to demand the security
of supplies for Bulgarian industry? Or we have to give up
everything, to stop developing, to stop creating jobs?" Stoynev
(editing by Matthias Williams and Jason Neely)