Bulgaria halted the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline project until it is made compliant with European law, the Bulgarian prime minister said.
"Depending on the outcome of forthcoming consultations with Brussels, we will decide how to proceed," Plamen Oresharski said, as quoted in a government press release issued over the weekend. "I have ordered that works on the launch of construction be halted until the procedure is agreed on with Brussels."
Commenting on the move , Bulgarian energy minister Dragomir Stoynev said on Monday the South Stream project seems “rather irreversible”.
The question is not whether to go ahead with the project, but how exactly to implement it, Stoynev said, as quoted in a press release of the ministry.
Also on Monday, Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted the country’s energy minister as saying Moscow has received no official notifications from Bulgaria on its intention to suspend works on the project.
Last week the European Commission sent the Bulgarian authorities a letter of formal notice, asking the country to suspend the project's implementation as it runs counter to the EU legislation.
In late May, South Stream Bulgaria, a 50/50 joint venture of Russia's Gazprom and the state-run Bulgarian Energy Holding, said it has picked a consortium made up of Russia's Stroytransgaz and Bulgaria's Gazproekt Yug to build the Bulgarian section of the South Stream gas pipeline.
Stroytransgaz and its subsidiaries are on the U.S. list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, which means that U.S. persons are prohibited from having any business dealings with Stroytransgaz, and its assets in the United States have been frozen.
On Friday, U.S. ambassador to Sofia Marcie Ries called on the Bulgarian businesses not to partner with Russian entities that are subject to sanctions by the U.S.
“We are deeply concerned with Bulgaria’s recent decision to award the contract for the construction of the South Stream pipeline to Stroytransgaz,” Marcie said in a post published on the embassy's official Facebook page. “Companies or individuals that provide material support to Stroytransgaz could themselves be subject to U.S. sanctions.”
The planned South Stream gas pipeline will carry gas from Russia to central and southern Europe via Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia, reaching its full capacity of some 63 billion cubic metres per year by 2017. The total value of the Gazprom-spearheaded project is estimated at some 16 billion euro ($21.85 billion).