Bulgaria prepared for Russian ‘blackmail’ gas stoppage

by Cristian Florescu

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on April 27 that the country’s Energy Ministry had a plan to minimise the impact of any interruption in the deliveries of natural gas from Russia and re-iterated that such a stoppage would not lead to any restriction in supplies to Bulgarian gas consumers, writes The Sofia Globe

Speaking before the weekly sitting of the Cabinet, Petkov said that Gazprom was in breach of contract and described the Russian state company’s actions as “blackmail to use an out-of-contract plan to pay in roubles via third parties, which guarantees neither deliveries nor Bulgarian taxpayers’ money.”

“We will not give in to such racketeering. Bulgaria is reviewing all contracts with Gazprom, including the transit contract through Bulgaria because unilateral action through extortion is unacceptable,” Petkov said.

He blamed former prime minister Boiko Borissov’s administration for spending three billion leva on expanding Bulgaria’s transit infrastructure to take on gas deliveries via the TurkStream pipeline, saying that it did not diversify the country’s energy sources.

Petkov highlighted his own government’s efforts to complete the gas interconnector pipeline to Greece, which suffered repeated delays under Borissov’s administration, saying that he received Greek prime minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis’ assurance that “the physical execution of the interconnector” will be completed in June.

Petkov said that he had discussed the issue with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and said that a joint response would be made at the EU level.

In a separate statement, Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said that Bulgaria was in contact with the European Commission and an expert-level meeting to discuss the next steps was scheduled for later in the day.

Nikolov said that Bulgarian Energy Holding, the umbrella entity for the country’s state-owned energy companies, has secured sufficient gas to meet all the needs of “critical businesses” for at least one month.

He said that Gazprom notified Bulgaria of the demand to make all payments in roubles at the beginning of the month, but failed to address Bulgaria’s concerns about the risks inherent in the change of payments in subsequent communications.

Nikolov said that the main risk in the two-stage payment process demanded by Gazprom, in which Bulgaria would deposit the payment in US dollars with a bank that would then convert the money into roubles, was that Bulgaria would lose control of the payment and could be in breach of contract if the bank failed to carry out the conversion, resulting in interrupted deliveries.

Additionally, Gazprom gave no information about the exchange rate that would be used for conversion during this process, he said.

Nikolov said that Bulgaria met all its contractual obligations and it was “obvious that natural gas is being used as a political weapon.” He said that Bulgaria would resist all attempts to pressure it into compliance.

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