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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bulgaria Seeks Benefits Before Committing to Russia Energy Projects

SOFIA — Bulgaria will demand economic benefits from Moscow in order to confirm its commitment to Russian-backed major energy projects, Bulgarian Economy and Energy Minister Traicho Traikov said on Tuesday.

Traikov will also tell Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko, who is due to visit Sofia on Thursday, that Bulgaria's participation in Russian projects should fit in the European Union's plans to boost security of supplies.

Bulgaria's new government of the center-right GERB party, which won July general elections, has launched a review of plans to build a new nuclear power plant as well as participate in the South Stream gas pipeline and the trans-Balkan oil pipeline.

The Bulgarian government has said it wanted to see whether the energy projects matched national interests and will seek the EU's advice before taking a decision.

It has also expressed readiness to steer Bulgaria closer to the EU, which it joined in 2007, after the previous Socialist-led government irked Brussels and the United States by allowing greater influence from Moscow.

"We will express the expectation to see economic benefits for our country from joint projects during the forthcoming talks," Traikov told reporters.

"All this should be put in a greater European context to ensure security of supplies," he added but did not give details.

Bulgaria, almost entirely dependent on Russia for its gas and oil, was the country worst hit by the January price dispute between Moscow and transit country Ukraine that left many consumers and businesses in eastern Europe without gas.

The new government has already said it will give priority to the EU-sponsored Nabucco pipeline project due to bring Caspian gas via the Balkans to central Europe and reduce the bloc's dependence on Russian gas.

Sofia intends to keep its commitment to the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline aimed at delivering gas to Europe under the Black Sea but seen as a rival to Nabucco.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, however, told national television last week that he saw no benefits in Bulgaria's participation in a planned pipeline to carry Russian crude oil from the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas to the Greek port of Alexandroupolis on the Aegean.

Soaring costs, dwindling budget revenues and lack of funding have also prompted Sofia to rethink plans to build a new nuclear power plant in Belene on the Danube.

The previous Bulgarian government has contracted Russia's Atomstroyexport to build the new 2,000 MW plant and picked German RWE for a 49-percent stake in the plant.

The Bulgarian economy and energy ministry said on Tuesday that Sofia may cut its 51 percent stake in the Belene project to 20 percent as it may seek to attract more investors and raise funding.

The government has said it will decide the fate of the projects by November.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged Sofia earlier this month to speed up the review, and said that if any of the Russian projects were annulled then Moscow would find alternatives.