What Putin's Recent Remarks Tell about Russia-Bulgaria Relations
Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent remarks about relations with Bulgaria have prompted mixed signals from Bulgarian analysts.
Asserting that Russian ties with Bulgaria could not end just because of the move by Sofia to join NATO eleven years ago, Putin also used the occasion to blame - again - Bulgaria for the failure of South Stream.
Abandoned in December 2014, after a speech by the Russian head of state during his visit to Turkey, South Stream was designed to carry 63 billion cubic meters of gas to Central Europe via Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary. Sofia, however, refused to issue construction permits for the offshore section after warnings from the EU commission that the project violated common energy rules.
Putin is inclined to return to "a certain version of South Stream", though it might be just part of the project. This is what Prof Atanas Tasev, an energy expert, thinks judging by the Russian President's comments.
He suggests that plans for the construction of Turkish Stream, designed as an alternative to South Stream "no matter the cost," do not match reality, in light of oil prices and the financial situation at Gazprom and generally in Russia.
"A problem can be solved only in the environment where it was created. Since it was the Russian President who created the problem, it is he who can solve it," Prof Tasev, who has worked as a financial analyst for a number of deals in the Bulgarian energy sector, believes.
He maintains that the route previously designated for South Stream is not "a result of some sentiments for the Bulgarian-Soviet fellowship" but is the most economically and technically viable solution.
"It seems that the expertise for this has already reached Putin himself," Tasev writes in an analysis for daily Standart.
At the same time the professor notes that it is highly unlikely that South Stream is "reborn" with all of the four lines (both Turkish Stream now-abandoned South Stream are planned to consist of four parallel sections). He foresees that one of the pipes, with a capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters of gas, might reach Europe via Turkey, while the others could be "redirected" to Bulgaria.
Tasev reminds that Bulgaria's territory is fully prepared to host the pipeline, with a number of documents having been signed, unlike the case with Turkey and Greece which would like to see Turkish Stream pass via their territory.
The implications of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers and its possible reemergence as a key player in energy might also lead Putin to give South Stream a second thought.
"Russia needs Bulgaria at the moment," says Ilian Vassilev, a former Bulgarian ambassador to Moscow and now Managing Partner at consultancy Innovative Energy Solutions.
He told private bTV station on Wednesday that Russia needs its allies to mitigate the impact of sanctions on its economy. In his words, in Bulgaria Putin sees a potential ally at a time when he is unable to "play hard" against the country, also knowing that Bulgaria is among the Eastern European countries that do not perceive his country as "such a threat" as other states in the region do.
Vassilev was placed earlier this year in a list of 89 European nationals on whom Moscow imposed a travel ban, supposedly in retaliation to Western sanctions on Russian officials.
Now is the moment for Bulgaria to defend its national interest in relations with Russia, Vassilev opined, but did not elaborate.
He added that by ditching South Stream Russia had also renounced the ability to "control" Turkey and Ukraine.
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