(Updates with PM, adds details, paragraphs 7-10)
SOFIA, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Bulgaria will ask the European Union on Monday to provide some 400 million euros ($535.7 million) in aid to help the Balkan country ease its dependence on its sole gas supplier, Russia, the economy ministry said.
Bulgaria wants to expand its sole gas storage facility and build pipeline links to neighbouring Greece and Romania quickly after a cut-off in Russian gas supplies left tens of thousands of homes without heating and forced some factories to shut down.
Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov will raise the Balkan country’s request for financial help at Monday’s meeting of the EU energy ministers in Brussels, the ministry said in a statement.
Former communist eastern Europe has so far done little to reduce reliance on its former Soviet master, Russia, and on single supply routes. Some, like Serbia and Bosnia, not only depend fully on Russia, but have no gas reserves either.
As a result, countries in the region are the worst hit in the Moscow-Kiev gas price dispute which has cut flows to Europe. (For a factbox on affected countries and their reliance, click on [nL546299]).
The disruption is exacerbated by a lack of pipeline links between countries in eastern Europe, outdated Soviet-era grid infrastructure, transmission losses and high energy intensity. (For east Europe analysis, see [nL8408013]).
Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev told parliament Bulgaria needed 125 million euros in EU aid to quickly build a 115-km stretch to an existing Turkey-Greece pipeline that would allow it to eventually import an agreed 1 billion cubic meters of Azeri gas a year.
Bulgaria also wants to build four separate stretches in the north to link its network with that of Romania, he said.
The projects are part of a plan by eight central and southeast European countries to link their pipeline networks, first announced last year and still on the drawing board.
Bulgaria also seeks 250 million euros to complete the expansion of its sole gas storage facility of Chiren and be able to draw over 10 million cubic metres a day from a maximum of 4.3 million now, Stanishev said.
The country is currently meeting about a third of its daily needs of about 12 mcm with gas from Chiren. The storage flow will start declining at the end of this week, the state gas transmission company Bulgartransgaz has said.
The state gas monopoly has put total reserves at Chiren at about 570 million cubic metres of gas. (Reporting by Anna Mudeva; editing by James Jukwey and Sue Thomas)