Russia says Bulgaria to complete pipeline stretch of TurkStream by 2020

SOFIA/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Bulgaria has promised to complete its stretch of the TurkStream gas pipeline by 2020 as planned, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, trying to tackle scepticism about the timescale of the project.

FILE PHOTO: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Last month Bulgaria signed a 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) contract with Saudi-led group Arkad to build the 474 km pipeline across its territory.

Sofia hopes the whole pipeline, which Bulgaria has dubbed Balkan Stream, will become operational as early as 2020, but given that the contract with Saudi company was signed only in September, some industry officials are doubtful of the timeline.

Lavrov, speaking in Moscow at a briefing with his Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva, said he was given assurances that the second part of TurkStream would be completed as planned.

“The partners have underscored that the work will be finished on time, by 2020,” Lavrov said.

Russia, which is building TurkStream to bypass Ukraine to the south, has said its second portion, with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters, will pass via Bulgaria to central Europe.

Earlier on Monday, Bulgaria opened the 11 km pipeline that links its gas transport network with Turkey as part of its push to transport Russian natural gas from TurkStream to central Europe and inspected the laying of pipes Arkad has started in northwestern Bulgaria.

The pipeline stretch is part of Bulgaria’s plans to link its southern border with Turkey to its western frontier with Serbia and provide a link to the Russia-backed TurkStream twin pipeline to Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

Last week, Russia’s Gazprom began filling the first part of the TurkStream pipeline, which runs via the Black Sea, with gas.

Moscow plans to launch the first part of the pipeline, with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters, by the end of the year.

Speaking to officials at the opening in southern Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said Balkan Stream was also a political highway ensuring peace along with its economic benefits.

Serbian Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic, who attended the inspection of construction works in northwestern Bulgaria, said Serbia will be ready with the pipeline on its territory by the end of the year and gas can flow once Bulgaria completes its part of the work.

($1 = 0.8959 euros)

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by David Holmes