“Everything will go as planned,” Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said, in response to earlier reports today that his country was halting operations on Gazprom’s South Stream gas pipeline project.
The Serbian government has not made any new decisions regarding
the construction of the South Stream pipeline, which will stretch
422 kilometers across the country and send Russian gas to
European markets bypassing Ukraine.
“This decision must be made by the government, which is not
currently in session. If everything goes as planned. If there are
any changes, the government will make a decision and you will be
notified about it,” Prime Minister Vucic said Monday.
Earlier during the day, Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Zorana Mihailovich
announced Serbia was halting work on the gas line, in response to
Bulgaria’s yesterday’s decision to suspend.
Serbia didn’t cite political reasons, but rather said that they
can’t complete their part of the project while there is a delay
in Bulgaria. Mikhailovich said Serbia will wait until Bulgaria
completes negotiations or Russia changes the pipeline route.
“Bulgaria – is the center. Until Bulgaria finishes
negotiations with Brussels and the European Union and Russia, the
project is suspended. Or until Russia changes the route. Either
way, the first and second scenarios means there will be a delay
in construction in our country,” Mihailovich was quoted as
saying in Belgrade’s Blitz newspaper on Monday.
So far the Kremlin has remained mum, not commenting on the
developments. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson
Dmitry Peskov told RIA Novosti, “we need to check, it is too
early to say anything.”
Bulgaria unexpectedly ordered work on South Stream to be suspended on Sunday after holding talks with
US Senators, and EU authorities ordered a freeze on the project.
Just last Thursday Serbia announced it had no plans to delay the
start of construction, scheduled for July, over pressure from the
Gazprom’s $45 billion South Stream project, slated to open in
2018 and deliver 64 billion cubic meters of natural gas to
Europe, is a strategy for Russia to bypass politically unstable
Ukraine as a transit country, and helps ensure the reliability of
gas supplies to Europe.
The project, which will supply Europe with 15 percent of its gas
needs, requires onshore facilities in Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary
and Slovenia, all of which have signed intergovernmental
agreements with Gazprom.
Setbacks from Europe
The South Stream project has faced a number of hurdles from the
European Commission, and more since relations between Russia and
Europe soured over Ukraine.
In order for South Stream to operate it needs approval from the
EU, which is trying to stall the project until it complies with
Europe’s ‘Third Energy Package’. In Europe, pipelines cannot be
owned and operated by one company; Gazprom can only own 50
percent of the pipeline, a condition Russia does not accept.
In response to EU warnings, Gazprom said it can complete the South Stream
pipeline without any outside international funding.
Gazprom broke ground on the Serbian section of the
South Stream pipeline project early in 2013, and was slated to be
complete within two years.
Serbia imports about 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year,
most of which comes from Russia via Hungary and Ukraine.
Russia, Ukraine and the EU meet in Brussels to discuss Ukraine’s
energy debt, Sabina Berger, press secretary of the EU
Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, says discussions on South Stream
are not on the agenda.
On June 13, representatives of the European Commission will visit
Bulgaria to discuss problems related to the South Stream project.