Nina Dyulgerova: Bulgaria to 'Close Its Doors' without South Stream
An interview of Novinite with prof. Nina Dyulgerova, an expert in International Relations and Geoeconomics of Global Energy, on the latest events around South Stream.
Since April 2001, Dyulgerova has been Professor of International Relations at the Varna Free University Chernorizets Hrabar. She is also teaching at a Master's program titled National and International Security at the New Bulgarian University.
She has published a number of works on energy, as well as on geopolitics and security in the Caucasus and the Black Sea Region.
Prof. Dyulgerova, mixed reactions could be heard from ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in the last few days over the South Stream project and relations with Gazprom. For instance, Rumen Ovcharov, a key member, rebuked critics by saying it is of political essence. So is South Stream rather a political or an economic one?
I think we could use both terms to define South Stream. We live in the 21st century, an energy century, and all forecasts show that consumption is set to rise. This means it is an economic project, as the more diversification we have, the better comsuption goes, and this pushes prices down. As for the political essence of the project - yes, it is imminently present. Judging by the fact that we are the first country in the EU route of South Stream we can conclude that has to do with politics. Europe is subjected to a growing Russian-American confrontation in the field of energy. The Ukraine crisis, for instance, was a geostrategical object of impact from the US side which led not only to escalation and through radical means, but also to an increased US participation in the most important element of Washington's interest in the field of energy, namely - the gas transportation system of Ukraine. Coincidentally [Hunter Biden], the son of US Vice President Joe Biden, is a member of the board of directors at the Ukrainian gas company [Burisma]. The fact that a process of buying up parts of Ukraine's energy system by American firms, and European ones close to them, also increases the pressure on the construction of South Stream, because it would mitigate or put an end to this complicated game. As a result, we are witnessing brutal policies in which means and methods used have no limits in the approach toward the governments of certain states within the region. Bulgaria and Romania are also part of the American puzzle; in the last few days there was a visit by three US senators in such key states bordering the post-Soviet space as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In our country we could take as a recent example the statement by Prime Minister [Plamen] Oresharski announcing that the South Stream gas pipeline is to be frozen.
How exactly do you see the correlation between this statement and the senators' visit?
It is a direct one. If it had not been for the visit, [Oresharski] would have had no grounds to make it. No occasion was present before that to prompt his reaction.
But what leverage would those US senators use on Bulgaria in your view?
The spaces bordering the EU and the post-Soviet states have seen the creation of a model which is advisedly being provoked and is related to the disintegration of the state. It is vital to have political instability, economic crises and social tension there. It is obligatory that the political leaders and parties shoud include people who, regardless of being in opposition or not, are bound with a number of dependencies on external factors, a state which does not create conditions for a consistent policies or consistent defense of national interests. This is reality in Bulgaria, also in Romania and in Moldova, where a pro-Romanian elite, albeit small, holds the levers of power. This model allows Washington to control the territories and spaces affected, to indulge in behavior and comments like those of the three senators, why don't we also add those of the US Ambassador in Bulgaria to the picture. It had been long since she last spoke out, but on Sunday she did and pointed her finger at Bulgaria. This is not how one should treat an independent state. I don't know whether a separate American state would tolerate such behaviour from Washington.
If we look back to the cabinet of [former center-right Prime Minister] Boyko Borisov, he fulfilled two orders by Washington by taking the political decisions to stop the [construction of] Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline and Belene NPP. The fact that during the entire 2012 and 2013 scenarios of a US investor in the face of Westinghouse, first for the Belene NPP and then for the modernization of the Kozloduy NPP, suggests attempts to push away Russian companies and the introduction of ones from the US.
How would you explain then that Serbia, which is traditionally very close to Russia, also announced it would freeze the project?
This was just a statement from a Deputy Prime Minister [Zorana Mihajlovic], while Prime Minister [Aleksandar Vucic] said he could not yet confirm such a decision.
Still, are mixed signals emitted by Belgrade a sign of economic cautiousness or rather a message to Europe?
I perceive them to be part of Serbia's strategic situation. Serbia is a very experienced player in the Balkan and European sectors of foreign policy; now it has found an occasion to blackmail mostly the EU. In Serbia, Russia is taken for granted. It has got its energy infrastructure there and operates it undistrurbed. Belgrade has no problems with Moscow, but presently the EU demands from it steps toward association and boosting EU membership processes. This gives Serbia ground to play its own game using the ongoing situation with South Stream.
Given the pressure applied on the South Stream project, mixed signals can also be observed from the EU and Bulgaria's sides. The EU Commission freezes the project and says no activities are to be carried out until it complies with EU legislation. Bulgarian Energy Minister Dragomir Stoynev, on the other hand, repeatedly declares that the pipeline is to be built - as if anyone were officially seeking to stop it. Isn't there a contradiction?
First of all, the EU Commission has not sent any documentation in Bulgaria to explain what is wrong with the project and what is to be corrected. I would put aside those generalities within the public space - like non-compliance with energy directives... I remember that, regardless of accusations of non-transparency (we are again referring to the public space, as we do not have any documents at disposal) Bulgaria officially announced in October it had signed the agreement taking the Third Energy Package into consideration. In January, information from a EU Energy Commissioner [Gunther Oettinger]'s spokesperson emerged that the same agreement had to be revised. Afterwards Minister Stoynev authorized the Commission to hold negotiations with Gazprom over the states where the South Stream gas is to be transported. This was followed by statements by a number of Commission spokespeople, Oettinger himself, even [Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsenuy] Yatsenyuk indulged in calls on the EU to freeze South Stream. I think this is all political tinkering and overtrumping behind which a frantic desire of the US to tread into the EU can be observed.
There is also an allegation that if the EU wanted to freeze South Stream, it could have blacklisted Gennady Timchenko, the major shareholder in [South Stream Bulgaria subcontractor] Stroytransgaz, after it had been known for months it would be his company to build the Bulgarian stretch.
European sanctions have their political value and are tied to the interests of European trans-national corporations. Why is [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel so contradictory? Why is the EU inconsistent in its approach to the anti-Russian policies of the US? It is because Europe is bound with Russia, and America wants it to renounce Russia for the dubious value of what has long been exposed as a stock fraud - shale has. The US brutality witnessed over the past five or six months - its attempts to blackmail Russia and the EU in the light of the Ukraine crisis - shows that the battle for the US energy presence is its last opportunity to survive in Europe, alongside the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP]. If this happens, we would have to fully close the door of the old world, which in geopolitical terms has existed since WWI, and to say hello to a new world of trans-national corporations and weak states serving as functions of corporate interests.
Let's look at the scenario in which South Stream remains frozen and is not carried out for a long time. Over the past months Turkey has reiterated its interest in hosting the project's pipelines. Is such a development feasible?
Russia and Turkey maintain close relations and are not tied to the EU. A "Blue Stream II" pipeline could indeed be constructed, both countries are almost ready to take such a step.
In other words - might another version of South Stream be carried out which goes around Bulgaria?
No, actually with such developments nothing would remain on our territory. I am inclined to think a scenario like that would make us close the door on which a sign reading "a Bulgarian state" could be seen. There would be no such state. In the 21st century, that of energy, no state could survive if it lacks energy transmissions and different sources. For Bulgaria, gas transportation is a breath of fresh air and a guarantee for stability.
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