Bulgaria to seek exemption from EU oil embargo on Russia if possible, deputy PM says

A general view shows the oil refinery of the Lukoil company in Volgograd
A general view shows the oil refinery of the Lukoil company in Volgograd, Russia April 22, 2022. REUTERS/REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHER

SOFIA, May 4 (Reuters) - Bulgaria will seek an exemption from the European Union's proposed Russian oil embargo if such opt-outs are allowed, Bulgaria's deputy prime minister said on Wednesday in an interview with financial newspaper Capital.

The EU has proposed a phased oil embargo on Russia as part of a new round of sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

EU representatives did not reach an agreement on Wednesday on the embargo, but they could move closer to a deal at a meeting on Thursday, an official familiar with the talks told Reuters. read more

Bulgaria's only oil refinery Neftochim Burgas, owned by Russia's LUKOIL (LKOH.MM), is the dominant fuel provider in the Balkan country, the poorestin the 27-member bloc.

Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev has previously said the refinery was already processing 50% of Russian crude and 50% of non-Russian crude and would eventually be able to switch off Russian oil completely if need be.

"Bulgaria, technologically, can do without Russian crude oil, but that would push up fuel prices significantly," he told financial newspaper Capital in an interview, published on Wednesday.

"So, if the European Commission considers exemptions, we would like to take advantage of such exemptions as it will be in the best interest of the Bulgarian consumers, of the Bulgarian hauliers and the Bulgarian people as a whole," he said.

The European Commission's proposed measures include phasing out supplies of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of 2022.

Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic have already sought such exemptions. An EU source told Reuters on Wednesday that Slovakia and Hungary would be able to continue buying Russian crude oil until the end of 2023 under existing contracts. read more

"A firm European position 'we are stopping everything for everyone' is one thing. But if there are exemptions, we will exercise our right to use the same exception," Vassilev said.

Last week, Russia cut gas supplies to Bulgaria, which was meeting more than 90% of its needs with gas imports from Gazprom, over its refusal to pay for the gas in roubles, sticking to an EU position. read more

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova. Editing by Jane Merriman

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