Bulgaria's Energy Mafia: Feeling the Chill of New Cold War

By MILENA HRISTOVA   April 17, 2014


The South Stream pipeline intended to link the EU to Russia through the Black Sea by 2018 is now “dead”. The European Parliament supported on Thursday a resolution, stating that the South Stream pipeline should not be built. The document was tabled by representatives of the European People's Party, the European Socialists, Liberals, Greens and Conservatives and comes in the wake of debates over Russia's actions to destabilize Eastern Ukraine.


To the horror of Bulgaria's energy oligarchs.


If South Stream is really dead, Brussels has just put a big spoke in Bulgaria's energy mafia's wheel. They had it all so nicely planned out!


When he left Sofia in the evening of January 18, 2008, Putin had good reasons to be content. He had achieved his main goal – secure Bulgaria's participation in his South Stream project. It would bypass Ukraine via the Black Sea to meet up to 15% of Europe's annual gas demand by 2018.


Getting the new EU member aboard was a serious coup and an important step in his plan to further increase Europe's dependence on Russian energy sources.


Not that it was a hard task.


Bulgarian politicians, giddy with excitement and weak at the knees, were all too willing to sign the deal even though it further deepened Bulgaria's reliance on Russian energy carriers with less than clear-cut benefits for Bulgaria.


Putin's historic two-day visit in Sofia in January 2008 stirred controversy with critics saying Bulgaria becomes the Trojan horse of Russia's energy policy in the European Union.


"The Trojan horse phrase makes no sense, “Europe is no Troja. Europe is not under a siege, it is open," argued the ruling Socialists back then.


Now, six years later and with a fresh escalation in the emerging Cold War between Russia and the West, Bulgaria's Socialist government and parliament are jumping through themselves to give Putin, his oligarchs and their Bulgarian partners, what they want and fawn to Moscow.


But they are very nervous.


It is not because of concerns over the protection of national interests, fewer investors, jobs and weakened security.


There's a simple reason why the ruling parties and the energy oligarchs close to them are getting nervous: if South Stream is dead, there will be no backhanders in it for them!


The radical shift in EU energy policy came as Russia began to feel the chill of US sanctions imposed in March.


To make matters worse there appeared media reports that a consortium led by Russia's Stroitransgaz, owned by sanctions-hit businessman Gennady Timchenko, will win a 3.5 billion-euro deal to build a section of the South Stream gas pipeline across Bulgaria.


The government, desperate to keep its energy oligarchs happy and calm, was quick to say they know nothing about it.


Bulgaria hasn't stopped preliminary work on the Russian-led South Stream gas pipeline project, its prime minister said, but stressed Sofia was "closely monitoring" relations between Brussels and Moscow.


Truth is the time has come for Bulgaria to define which bloc it will follow. Will it be EU or Balkan or Slavic or Russian? Which flag should we raise?