Friday, 24 April 2009

The issue of European energy security ... or who is the Russian trojan horse in the EU?

This weekend (24-25 April) Sofia will host an international forum on energy under the slogan "Natural gas for Europe, energy security". The forum was organized under the aegis of the Bulgarian president and was supposed to give an arena for negotiations on natural gas supplies for all the consumers of the region and the big exporters - Russia, Azerbaidjan, Qatar, etc.

Bulgarian president Parvanov and sheikh Hamad bin-Halifa al-Tani of Qatar. Photo: Dnevnik.

Two major changes of the initial plan and two significant missings mark the forum. The first draft of forum's final declaration included a paragraph that intended to put the Russian pipe-line project "South Stream" (by-passing Ukraine) among EU's priorities in the energy sector. Commission president Barosso threatened not to attend the forum and the paragraph was removed.

This change is the most probable cause of Vladimir Putin's decision not to attend. As some Russian media puts it "A lower level delegation is sufficient for a forum that is expected to come out with an anti-Russian declaration". Of course, in this case anti-Russian means any statement that can hit on the practical Russian gas monopoly in the region - such a non-discrimination principle in gas-transit and any good will expressed towards "Nabucco".

This time the Bulgarian center-right does not need to use the banners of previous Putin visits. Photo: Dnevnik.

Quite significantly, the European commissioner on Energy - Andris Piebalgs is also absent. That puts a question mark on EU's view of the forum. To provide a possible explanation I will use a quote of former Russian ambassador in Bulgaria Mr. Chizhov who said prior to country's accession that "Bulgaria will be Russia's trojan horse in the EU". NATO appears to have similar considerations.

So, no major developments expected from the forum if Putin and Piebalgs are not there, maybe a declaration of good will and some non-binding statements. But, there's always but ...

Bulgarian prime minister Stanishev flies to Moscow on Monday to visit his suzerain and few here in Bulgaria will be surprised if he comes back with a freshly signed contract on "South Stream", which will send "Nabucco" to the "dead-at-birth" category and surrender 50% of the Bulgarian gas-transporting system to "Gazprom".

On his last visit to Moscow Stanishev (left), together with the prime-ministers of Moldova Zinaida Greceanii and Slovakia Robert Fico (right) had to wait three hours before a meeting with Putin. Photo: Dnevnik.

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