Bulgaria’s caretaker government mulls new long-term contract with Gazprom

Bulgaria’s caretaker government mulls new long-term contract with Gazprom
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia August 7, 2022

Bulgaria’s caretaker government does not exclude the possibility of negotiating a new long-term contract with Russian Gazprom, Elenko Bozhkov, the country's caretaker deputy energy minister, said in an interview with Nova TV on August 6.

There are widespread suspicions that Prime Minister Gulub Donev’s caretaker government was picked by President Rumen Radev with the task of bringing Bulgaria back into the Russian orbit, including by agreeing to pay for Russian natural gas in roubles in violation of EU sanctions.

Bulgaria had been receiving most of its natural gas from Gazprom, but the Russian company stopped its deliveries at the end of April as the former government led by Kiril Petkov refused to start paying in rubles. 

Petkov’s government secured the delivery of 1bn cubic metres of natural gas from Azerbaijan, with delivery to start before the completion of the Greece-Bulgaria gas link, but that is just one third of the country’s annual consumption.

Bozhkov said that Bulgaria was responsible for the stop to supplies from Gazprom, as Petkov’s government refused to pay in roubles. Former finance minister Assen Vassilev also said that the country would not negotiate a new contract with the Russian company. The current one expires at the end of 2022.

Now, however, Donev’s government is rethinking the country’s energy policy. 

“Gazprom is an option,” Bozhkov said, adding that he “sees nothing wrong” in that. 

Meanwhile, the talks with Azerbaijan, which Petkov’s government started, have been put on hold until the new team finds out what has been agreed so far.

Former energy minister Alexander Nikolov has repeatedly offered to help his successor with information on what has been done and what contacts have been established, but said so far there was no interest from the current team.

Petkov has accused the new government of intentionally delaying the issue of the last documents needed for the Greece-Bulgaria gas interconnector to become fully operational. Once the interconnector operational, Bulgaria would be able to secure all its natural gas needs without using supplies from Gazprom.

While the question of long-term gas supplies remains uncertain, the government said it will seek to buy gas on the spot market to secure Bulgaria’s short-term needs.

Ivan Ivanov, the head of the state water and energy regulator, KEVR, said that Bulgaria will also rely on the EU to secure the missing quantities of natural gas for the winter season.

Earlier in August, the head of state-owned gas supplier Bulgargaz, Georgi Topchiyski, said that Bulgaria is short of 40% of the natural gas it would need for the winter season, despite the former government having secured seven tankers of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The tankers, secured by Petkov during a visit to the US, would be supplied if the caretaker government that took office on August 2 secures free slots for unloading them.

Topchiyski also said that the natural gas will be enough for users on the regulated market and 50% of the amount needed for business on the free market.