Prague, March 18 (RFE/RL) - The status of a proposed
Russia-Bulgaria pipeline that would allow Russian oil shipments to
circumvent the Bosphorus remains uncertain, following last week's
visit to Moscow by Bulgaria's Prime Minister Zhan Videnov.
Videnov and Russia's Prime Minsiter Viktor Chernomyrdin discussed
the 700-million dollar project before signing energy agreements
Friday. The Bulgarian Prime Minister also met Gazprom Chairman Rjem
Vjahirev before the signing.
After returning to Sofia, Videnov called the project "historic," but
said talks had been "tough," because, as he put it, differenct
national interests are involved.
Gazprom is the major Russian partner in Topenergy, a joint
Russia-Bulgaria firm. The newly established company plans to sell and
deliver Russian gas in the Balkans. But Topenergy's operations have
been delayed by disagreements between Gazprom and Sofia over
ownership of the pipelines to be built on Bulgaria's territory.
The Bulgarian partners include the state-owned Bulgargaz and the
private firm Multigroup, a financial group headed by Iliya Pavlov, a
man Bulgarian media refer to as a Soviet-era Bulgarian secret service
Two of Videnov's cabinet advisors sit on Topenergy's board. But the
key figure is Board Chairman and Parliamentary Deputy Andrei Lukanov
- the former Communist Party Central Committee member, who became
Sofia's first post-revolutionary prime minister.
Relations between Videnov and Lukanov, both members of the governing
"Bulgarian Socialist Party," have become increasingly sour in recent
weeks. Lukanov recently accused Videnov of ordering police officers
to follow him, and of attempting to establish a neo-Stalinist regime.
But Lukanov has been blamed in Sofia with selling Bulgaria's rights
to pipelines on its territory to Russia. Earlier this month,
Gazprom's Vjahirev visited Bulgaria in an apparent attempt to resolve
the dispute. He left without success, prompting last week's talks
The pipeline project would bring Russian crude oil from the Urals
directly to tankers at Alexandroupolis on Greece's northern Aegean
Sea coast. It's construction would help allay Russian fears about
strict new Turkish maritime controls on oil tankers passing through
the Bosphorus strait.
The project calls for 300 kilometers of high-pressure pipeline to be
built from Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas to the Greek coast. It
would link to an existing network that passes through Romania and
Ukraine into Russia. Russia also hopes to ship Caspian oil to Burgas
from its Black Sea port of Novorossisk.
Other disagreements also threaten the project. A dispute between
Greece and Bulgaria surfaced last week, with Sofia demanding less
participation by major Greek firms in the pipeline's construction.
Bulgaria's Deputy Prime Minister Doncho Konakchiev accused Greece of
promising contracts to private Greek firms before feasibility studies
and economic reports have been completed.
Athens appears eager to get on with the project. Nikos Efthymiadis,
President of The Federation of Northern Greek Industries, said
Bulgaria has "political problems" related to the share distribution
of a new international company being set up to design, construct and
operate the project. That company would be called Trans-Balkan
Pipeline SA. Efthymiadis says: "The prevailing factor must be
business not politics."