Bulgaria PM gets cool reception at Moscow gas talks
MOSCOW, April 27 |
MOSCOW, April 27 (Reuters) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev got a frosty reception from Russia's leaders on Monday and expressed no clear hopes that a gas pipeline deal with Moscow would be reached during his two-day official visit.
Not only did President Dmitry Medvedev unexpectedly postpone his meeting with Stanishev with no official explanation, but Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took a jab at Bulgaria during his welcome speech that evoked load groans from the crowd.
The official visit, which is to focus on getting Bulgaria to commit to a role in Russia's proposed South Stream gas route to Europe, had already been clouded by a string of disputes.
In January, Bulgaria was among the countries worst affected by the gas dispute between Russian and Ukraine that cut off supplies to millions of European consumers.
Last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulled out of a gas conference in Sofia because the Bulgarian government was not willing to quickly commit to South Stream. The first day of Stanishev's visit also did not go smoothly.
Medvedev's scheduled meeting with Stanishev was postponed at the last minute, leaving only one day -- Tuesday -- for the two sides to hammer out an agreement.
The Kremlin declined to give any explanation of the move. Stanishev, when asked to comment, said: "It appears the schedule is dynamically evolving."
Speaking at a welcome event alongside Stanishev, Putin took an apparent jab at Bulgaria's meagre investments in Russia.
"If Russia's investments (into Bulgaria) add up to hundreds of millions (of dollars), then Bulgaria is only in the neighbourhood of some $13 million. This in no way corresponds to what is possible," Putin said.
The reaction of the largely Bulgarian crowd of several hundred people was loud enough to drown out Putin, forcing him to raise his voice as he finished his point.
In his opening speech, Stanishev said South Stream was in both Russia and Bulgaria's interests, but he showed little confidence in a quick agreement.
"Over the coming years, I am certain that this mutually beneficial agreement will develop further," he said.
Stanishev was also careful to point out Bulgaria's role in another pipeline, Nabucco, which is being led by the European Union and stands in direct competition with South Stream.
"The Bulgarian government is considering South Stream as an important project along with Nabucco, in which we are participating as a stakeholder," Stanishev said during a lecture at Moscow's Diplomatic Academy earlier on Monday.
Asked later about Bulgaria's attitude toward South Stream, Stanishev said, "It is positive. Bulgaria's stance is to effectively use its geographical location."
Both Nabucco and South Stream need Bulgaria because of its strategic position between rich gas resources in Russia and Central Asia and consumers in Europe, which depend on Russia for a quarter of their gas.
The January gas conflict that strained the energy bond between Russia and Europe must be avoided again at all costs, Stanishev said.
"Economists have valued our losses (from the gas conflict) at 150 million euros," he said. "We have to do everything we can to prevent such crises from happening again."
Bulgarian officials have said Putin had cancelled his trip to Sofia because Bulgaria did not want Russia to use its existing pipeline infrastructure for South Stream and wanted Moscow to build new pipelines. [ID:nLL62357]
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