SOFIA — Bulgaria has not given up on plans to build the South Stream pipeline delivering Russian natural gas to Europe and sees the Gazprom-led project as irreversible, Energy Minister Dragomir Stoynev said on Monday.
Bulgaria said on Sunday it had halted work on the pipeline after the European Union and United States expressed concerns about the project.
Designed to bypass Ukraine, the pipeline has inflamed tensions between the EU and Russia after Brussels asked Sofia last week to suspend work pending a decision on whether it complies with EU law.
Stoynev said in a statement he was certain South Stream would be built once disputes over how to structure it as a European project are cleared.
“If we look at the situation strategically and without emotions, the South Stream project looks irreversible and important for both Europe and Bulgaria,” Stoynev, who is on a visit to China, said.
“I am convinced that all pending issues will find a solution.”
In response to Bulgaria halting work, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency on Monday as saying: “(We) need to check, it is too early to say anything.”
European Commission spokeswoman Sabine Berger declined to comment on Stoynev's statement, but welcomed the position of EU member Bulgaria to halt work.
“This is an important step in response to the concerns raised by the Commission last week,” she said.
“In the recently adopted European Energy Security Strategy, the European Commission has called for a discussion on South Stream at the upcoming European Council so that a common EU approach can be taken.”
Washington has also warned Sofia that picking a consortium led by sanctions-hit Stroitansgaz to build the Bulgarian section of the pipeline could result in sanctions on Bulgarian companies involved.
South Stream is being built to pipe 63 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia, beneath the Black Sea, and through Bulgaria into central and southern Europe.
Bulgaria's Stoynev, a staunch supporter of the project, says it will boost the country's energy security and economy. Bulgaria currently gets almost all of its gas from Gazprom via pipeline through Ukraine.
“We really are actively working to close the open issues with the European Commission, meaning that we have not abandoned the project,” Stoynev said.
State-controlled Gazprom is pushing ahead with the project, expected to be cost around $45 billion, despite Western sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.