Bulgaria says talks to resume Russian gas supplies are ‘inevitable’

An employee works at the Bulgartransgaz gas compressor station near Ihtiman, Bulgaria, May 12, 2022. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo

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SOFIA, Aug 22 (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s interim energy minister said it was “inevitable” that the Balkan country will discuss resuming gas supplies with Russia’s Gazprom (GAZP.MM), which were halted in April after the government promised , to ensure adequate supplies the winter.

Rossen Hristov did not say when negotiations with the Russian company will start, but said they are needed to secure cheaper gas for the country.

“In reality, given the demands of business and unions, talks with Gazprom on renewing supplies are inevitable,” Hristov told reporters.

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The European Union country had met more than 90% of its gas needs with Russian supplies by April, when Gazprom halted supplies to Bulgaria over the previous government’s refusal to pay in rubles.

The long-term contract with Gazprom expires at the end of 2022.

Hristov accused the previous government of reformist Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, which collapsed in June just six months after taking office, of damaging ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

He said he doesn’t expect easy and quick talks. “The situation with Gazprom is not rosy at all… We should of course contact them now. The talks are going to be very tough and very difficult,” he told reporters.

Hundreds of Bulgarians have protested the interim government since taking office on August 2, fearing it may work to resume Russian gas supplies and increase the Kremlin’s grip on the economy once again.

The Russian ambassador to Bulgaria said on Sunday that gas supplies to Bulgaria could resume if there was a political will from Sofia and reiterated that payments should be made in rubles.

Currently, the country, which needs about 3 billion cubic meters of gas annually, imports 1 billion cubic meters per year from Azerbaijan and buys the rest on the market.

Wholesale gas prices rose about 60% in August to about 300 levs ($153.44) per megawatt-hour.

Business groups and unions said high gas prices were hitting the industry and urged the government to look for ways to resume Russian gas imports, which would be cheaper than buying it on the open market.

Sofia is starting talks with Azerbaijan this week to boost Azerbaijani supplies and will also discuss supplies with Turkish gas traders, Hristov said.

The interim government has decided to strike a deal with US gas company Cheniere for just one shipment of liquefied natural gas for October and said it cannot afford slots at LNG terminals for the other six shipments secured by the previous cabinet secure prices.

($1 = 1.9551 leva)

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Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Edited by Edmund Blair and Jan Harvey

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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