Bulgaria, Serbia agree to work on pipeline to cut reliance on Russian gas

SOFIA, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Bulgaria and Serbia signed on Thursday a memorandum of understanding to work together for the construction of a natural gas pipeline to link the Balkan neighbours to boost security of supplies and reduce their strong reliance on Russian gas.

“This is a very important day for Serbia and Bulgaria,” Serbian Energy minister Aleksandar Antic said after signing the memorandum with his Bulgarian counterpart Temenuzhka Petkova.

The two countries plan to begin the construction of the 150-km gas inter-connector link by May 2019 and have it operational by the end of 2020.

Bulgaria has already drafted a technical plan for the 61 km of the pipeline that will link Sofia with the Serbian city of Nis.

Serbia, which hopes to wrap up its EU membership talks by 2019, is under pressure from Brussels to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, which accounts for more than 80 percent of its needs, to join the bloc.

Bulgaria, which still gets over 95 percent of its gas from Russia’s Gazprom, has opened a gas link with neighbouring Romania and is working to connect its gas network with neighbouring Greece and Turkey to diversify its suppliers. (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Mark Potter)