Bulgarian Politicians Don't Believe South Stream Is Over
"We should concentrate and look into this, and if the project is as profitable as EUR 400 M a year, we should save it."
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov made this comment on South Stream ahead of debates in Parliament in which MPs were supposed to come up with Bulgaria's position on the project. Borisov voiced his message to political parties just less than forty-eight hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin had said Moscow was renouncing South Stream and Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller had declared the project "closed" as his final word.
Within that time, there has been no certainty whether Putin and Miller were serious. Putin undoubtedly left enough room for speculation by making his declaration exactly a fortnight before off-shore construction was scheduled to kick off and just two days after EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are set to meet in Basel - and it is hard to believe the two will spend all their minutes on Ukraine. What is more, experts are clearly divided over "South Stream 2.0", with some calling it a "bluff" or "economically unfeasible" and others saying it will leave Bulgaria's energy sector in tatters, dashing the country's "last hope" to have "security in energy supplies."
Bulgarian citizens, either welcoming the decision with a sigh of relief or voicing their fears about "what will happen to Bulgaria now," are also divided over the demise of South Stream. But politicians are definitely not.
This statement certainly goes for Borisov who, alongside his economy and energy ministers, already warned they had received neither a prior notification nor any official document as a follow-up to Putin's strong-worded remarks. The Prime Minister is to meet EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday clearly intending to place a single demand: Europe needs a solution, and it better be quick. Borisov, who during his first tenure ditched two high-profile (albeit not that "international") Russian projects, namely Burgas-Alexandroupoli and Belene NPP, is unusually careful with his wording about South Stream. His hopes are enforced by the Commission's own cautious approach and its plans to hold talks with "ex-South Stream" states regardless of whether the project will actually be carried out.
Then there is, just as undoubtedly, the socialist opposition, with both center-left BSP and left-wing ABV crying foul over the project which both had described as core points for their election platforms. ABV even blamed GERB for failing to support their position in what had to be the joint declaration of Bulgaria's legislature.
But socialists are forgetting a detail: it was a Prime Minister in a BSP-led government who froze the project. At that time they had been trying to propagate a hypothesis that putting South Stream to a halt meant it would never be carried out because it was the West that struggled to abandon it - the same Putin was obviously making use of while delivering his statement.
This might have been why they almost failed to notice that both GERB and right-wing Reformist Bloc, somewhat hawkish about relations with Russia, actually supported South Stream within their platforms, "but only if conformed to EU rules."
Though the RB argued on Thursday the project might really be over, their first public reaction was to call Putin's move a "bluff".
It looks like nobody really wants to be against South Stream. Neither do lawmakers suggest Bulgaria has no use of that project, even though those who could have used such rhetoric to enforce trust of their pro-Western supporters (such as RB).
The deadlock reached in Wednesday's debate in Parliament therefore tells little of the tacit agreement among Bulgarian politicians that: 1) Europe should come up with a solution; 2) Putin is rather less serious about halting South Stream than about offering the EU a customs union, as Russia did again in November.
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Unbelievable. First, Bulgaria froze the project, now six months later its politicians couldn't believe that Russia agreed with that decision. Moreover, I guess Bulgaria was quite hostile towards the South Stream and didn't make any efforts to show Russia that Bulgaria care about it or interested at all. The position was - Russia needs it, let them fight with EU commission and also beg Bulgaria. Borisov underestimated Putin.