World Bulletin/News Desk
Bulgaria will not resume work on the Russian-led South Stream gas pipeline project until it receives the all clear from the European Commission, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski said on Sunday.
In a move that could inflame tensions between Russia and the European Union, the 28-nation bloc's executive arm last week asked the Balkan country to suspend work on Gazprom's South Stream project pending a decision on whether it complies with EU law.
The pipeline is being built to transport 63 billion cubic metres of gas per year under the Black Sea through Bulgaria to central and southern Europe, bypassing Ukraine, as Russia seeks to cement its position as Europe's dominant gas supplier.
Bulgaria is the EU's poorest member and almost wholly dependent on Russian gas, but Prime Minister Oresharski said it would comply with the European Commission's request.
"We discussed the South Stream issue and the European Commission request," Oresharski told reporters after meeting U.S. senators in Sofia on Sunday, adding that Bulgaria will continue work on the project only after the EU's concernes have been resolved.
U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria Marcie Ries said on Friday that the United States was deeply concerned by Bulgaria's choice of Russia's Stroytransgaz, a consortium owned by sanctions-hit businessman Gennady Timchenko, to build the Bulgarian section of the pipeline.
State-controlled Russian gas exporter Gazprom is pushing ahead with the $40 billion project despite Western sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.
A spokesman for the Russian energy ministry said that Moscow has not received any official notification from Sofia that Bulgaria has suspended the work on the project.
"We are planning to bring up the issue during our talks tomorrow with (EU Commissioner Guenther) Oettinger," the spokesman said.
Ukraine, Russia and European Commission officials meet in Brussels on Monday evening to continue talks how to resolve a dispute over gas prices.
Bulgaria has not given up -energy minister
Meanwhile, Bulgaria has not given up plans to build the South Stream pipeline delivering Russian natural gas to Europe and sees the Gazprom-led project as irreversible, Energy Minister Dragomir Stoynev said on Monday.
Stoynev said in a statement he was certain South Stream would be built once disputes over how to structure it as a European project are 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.
"I am convinced that all pending issues will find a solution."
In response to Bulgaria halting work, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency on Monday as saying: "(We) need to check, it is too early to say anything."
Bulgaria's Stoynev, a staunch supporter of the project, says it will boost the country's energy security and economy.
"We really are actively working to close the open issues with the European Commission, meaning that we have not abandoned the project," Stoynev said.
Last Mod: 09 Haziran 2014, 12:17