Bulgaria signals historic move away from Russian gas – POLITICO

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Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine prompts Bulgaria to think the unthinkable – and divest itself of Russian natural gas.

For decades, Bulgaria’s energy policy was shaped under pressure from Russian energy companies such as state-owned natural gas producer Gazprom and oil giant Lukoil.

But in a potentially historic move that could redraw Europe’s energy map, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Asen Vassilev said that when Bulgaria’s 10-year deal with Gazprom expires in late 2022, Sofia will look elsewhere to meet its natural gas needs cover.

“In this situation, there can be no talks with Gazprom,” Vasilyev told Bulgarian National Radio. “There are alternatives.”

Vasilyev’s announcement comes just months before the planned completion of a pipeline linking the Bulgarian grid with Greece – a project US and European diplomats have long suspected Moscow is pressuring Sofia to stop. Bulgaria has some of the deepest ties to Moscow of any country in the European Union, but its new government, which came to power in December, is trying to chart a more outspoken pro-Western stance

Known as the Greece-Bulgaria interconnector, the pipeline would bring flexibility to the south-eastern European gas market, potentially allowing countries in the region to diversify away from Russian gas and improving links between the EU and gas producers in the Middle East and Central Asia .

According to the Bulgarian Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov, the project should enable the country top up its gas capacity of three to five billion cubic meters of gas imports per year and provides Sofia with a connection to a planned LNG terminal due to be operational in 2023 in the Greek city of Alexandroupolis.

Sofia will also try to increase imports from Azerbaijan, which already supplies Bulgaria with 1 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The deputy prime minister said costs could be contained if a joint EU gas supply agreement were signed with Baku, arguing that “better prices can be achieved with larger volumes”.

LNG imports are likely to result in more expensive gas for Bulgaria, but Vassilev said the switch has become a necessity as a result of the war in Ukraine.

“This is not just a Bulgarian position: this is a common European strategy,” he said, citing the recent agreement reached by EU leaders at Versailles, “our dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal imports finish as soon as possible”.

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