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European countries that initially expressed interest in participating in the Nabucco gas-pipeline consortium have raised concerns over its feasibility, as Azerbaijani oil exports have been increasingly routed through Russia and Iran since the Georgia conflict.

"Nabucco is distancing itself from happening," Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Milen Keremidchiev says. Bulgaria's Bulgargas company owns 16.7 percent of the Nabucco consortium, but the government has been negotiating with Russia on joining its South Stream project. Keremidchiev says South Stream looks realistic and Russia is more active in promoting its gas-delivery projects.

South Stream is seen as the main rival of Nabucco, which is projected to bring natural gas from the Caucasus and Caspian regions through Turkey to Bulgaria, Romania, and on to Western Europe. The $7 billion project is seen as a means of diversifying Europe's gas supply by bypassing Russia.

Earlier this year, Bulgaria reached agreement with Azerbaijan on buying 1 billion cubic meters of gas, and Keremidchiev says the commitment is still there. But he adds that "we are looking for ways to deliver that gas either via Russia or through alternative ways."

Bulgaria is planning to host an energy summit in early 2009, and the president is planning to visit Uzbekistan for negotiations on gas supplies, Keremidchiev adds.

"Bulgaria tries to ensure suppliers. There is a will to buy gas and get it delivered via any pipeline other than Russian," he says. "However, we doubt that Nabucco will ever be a reality."

-- Khadija Ismayilova

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