Serbia Threatens Not to Sell Energy Company

BELGRADE — Serbia said it will not sell its energy monopoly to Russia unless it gets firm guarantees from Moscow that it will build a strategic pipeline through the Balkan country.

The $13 billion South Stream natural gas pipeline to be laid under the Black Sea would carry Russian natural gas to Bulgaria and Serbia before branching out to points in Western Europe.

Moscow officials last month pledged to complete the pipeline by 2015 — two years behind the original schedule.

But Serbia's Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic told independent B-92 TV late Sunday that those guarantees are only "verbal" and that Gazprom has so far refused to sign a written contract to confirm it.

Gazprom is in talks to buy Serbia's state oil company, NIS, and Dinkic warned that the government would block the sale unless Moscow gives firm guarantees that the pipeline would be built.

He said Gazprom plans to conduct a feasibility study by mid-2010 and that only after that analysis would the Russian company decide whether to build the South Stream pipeline.

"In that case, we have to protect Serbia's interests," Dinkic said. "If there is no pipeline, there will be no [sale] of NIS."