In what it appears to be a political rapprochement, Bulgaria normalised its relations with Russia seven years upon frosty communication. The two state rapprochement was verified by the visit of the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Sofia last Monday.
The agenda of discussions mainly revolved around the thorny issue of the Turkish Stream II pipeline. Bulgaria counter-proposed a potential re-routing of the pipeline to incorporate Sofia within its energy corridor. In geographic terms, the crossover from Turkey’s shores to Bulgaria appears to be the most financially savvy and geographically sensible solution. Bulgaria already possess the necessary pipeline network to accommodate the great volumes of natural gas envisioned to be handled by the Turkish Stream II project and is a connecting country between Turkey and Central European states. The project appears to be a win-win situation but the legacy of South Stream project has returned to haunt if not undermine potential Bulgarian-Russian cooperation on the Turkish Stream II venture.
The South Stream project neared towards completion as both parties have reached at the stage of construction works before the European Commission intervened in 2014 to annul this development. Interestingly, the same government was in Bulgaria’s reins as of today. At that time, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov did not manage to assure Russians of the project with the latter withdrawing from a lucrative investment opportunity – which lost both resources (e.g., transported pipelines), time and financial capital. For this reason, the Russian Prime Minister appeared to be sceptical towards the Bulgarian counterpart’s recommendation for the Turkish Stream II project to cross Bulgaria’s territory. Prime Mininster Medvedev asked in exchange for European institutions to provide ‘iron strong guarantees’ before Moscow condoned to Bulgaria’s request and help bypass any operational hurdles that might be set by the U.S. towards materialisation of the project.
The importance of Turkish Stream II project for Bulgaria is enormous. Currently the gas pipeline network accommodates more than three million cubic metres per annum and this is expected to last until 2030. However, given Russia’s heightened tensions with Ukraine, Sofia is afraid that the free flow of natural gas may be interrupted in the future. In such a scenario, Bulgaria will have to face several overlapping issues including the abrupt stoppage of operations within its natural gas pipeline network, loss of current revenues, but also the pressing need to find a substitute energy provider to cover domestic demand.
In the fringes of the two leaders’ meeting, the Russian Prime Minister also agreed to help Bulgaria both financially and in equipment terms in the construction of its recently regurgitated Belene nuclear power plant project. The project has been abandoned multiple times given the inability of the Bulgarian government to attract investors to finance the power plant’s construction.