Key Bulgarian Ministers Conceal Information about TurkStream 2

Nikolay Marchenko
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Key ministers in Boyko Borisov’s government, who are in charge of the implementation of the TurkStream 2 gas pipeline project, refuse to provide any information to Bivol for weeks. While Bivol’s journalists were waiting for answers about contracts with Russian companies and the status of Belarusian and Russian workers at the Bulgarian section of the gas pipeline, Russia’s TASS suddenly announced that its construction had been completed as it had crossed the Serbian border. The US Embassy also kept silent for at least two weeks and has not answered Bivol’s questions about potential sanctions and the US company that supplied turbines to the compressor station near the village of Rassovo. There is a reasonable suspicion that the purpose of this widespread silence had been to wait long enough for the project to be completed.

At the end of October 2020, Bivol approached Ministers Temenuzhka Petkova, Denitsa Sacheva and Petya Avramova with identical written questions under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) about the conditions under which the so-called “Balkan Stream” is being built on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria.

But none of the three ministries answered Bivol’s questions within the two-week legal deadline.

It turned out that on the successful example of the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office, the three ministers had used the usual bureaucratic “trick” known as “forwarding to the competent authority”.

It is one thing to refer a matter to a subordinate institution as did Deputy Energy Minister Zhecho Stankov and Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova, who forwarded the inquiry to Bulgartransgaz.

It is another to have the Minister of Regional Development forwarding the request under the APIA not only to the subordinate Directorate for National Construction Control (DNCC) but also to her colleagues in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP) and the Ministry of Health.

Ministers pass the ball

The questions to Temenuzhka Petkova are within her competence, as they concern a key energy project implemented by Bulgartransgaz which is a subsidiary of the state-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) whose principal is the Minister of Energy.

It was only on November 10, 2020, that the press office of the Energy Ministry informed Bivol’s reporter by phone what was happening or rather not happening with the inquiry. But Bivol should have received as early as October 30 Stankov and Petkova’s e-mailed response, accompanied by their letter to the management of Bulgartransgaz, which should have provided the answers within the legal deadlines.

Apparently, the Ministry “lacks information” about Bulgartransgaz’ contracts with TurkStream 2 subcontractors. After the phone call, the press office forwarded to Bivol the Ministry’s letter to Bulgartransgaz. The letter had been sent to the company’s Executive Director Alexander Malinov.

The MLSP received Bivol’s inquiry under the APIA on October 28, 2020, and kept it in its office for almost ten days.

Then, on November 6, it forwarded it to the “the competent authorities” – the Executive Director of the Executive Agency “General Labor Inspectorate” Rumyana Mihaylova, to the Executive Director of the National Revenue Agency Galya Dimitrova and to the Director of the National Social Security Institute (NSSI) Ivaylo Ivanov.

In addition, the MLSP’s letter reveals that the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (MRDPWs) had forwarded its own letter from Bivol to the MLSP and that the latter had told Mihaylova, Dimitrova and Ivanov that it had nothing to do with the requested information.

The signature under the MPSP letter is that of Milena Petrova, Head Secretary of the MLSP and of Minister Denitsa Sacheva.

On its part, the MRDPWs’, led by Minister Petya Avramova, has forwarded Bivol’s inquiry not only to the MLSP but to the DNCC and to the Ministry of Health! This becomes clear from a letter signed by the Director of the MRDPWs’ Legal Directorate Boyanka Georgieva, who had forwarded the inquiry to the “competent authorities”!

Washington is in no hurry to impose sanctions

It is interesting that the Ambassador of the United States (US) to Bulgaria Herro Mustafa is also not in a hurry to answer Bivol’s questions about the construction of the gas pipeline with the participation of US companies supplying not only heavy equipment but also turbines for the compressor station Rassovo.

Bivol’ official inquiry was sent on October 30, 2020, and included relevant information, references to our investigations and several general questions about the position of the United States on the implementation of the project.

Raissa Yordanova, a press official at the US Embassy, confirmed on October 30 that Bivol’s inquiry had been received.

“We’re trying to find someone to answer your questions,” the e-mail from the Embassy’s press office reads.

Approached again on November 2, Raissa Yordanova declined to comment on whether and within what deadline any official response can be expected from the US diplomatic mission in Bulgaria:

“Sorry, I can’t give a specific answer to your question,” she replied.

Our team was again told in a telephone conversation on November 10 that it was not known when an answer from Ambassador Herro Mustafa about possible sanctions for TurkStream 2 could be expected.

Can this lack of official position be attributed to the uncertainty surrounding the results of the US election and President Donald Trump reportedly losing the race for the White House?

Or is it related to the desire of Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to spoil relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin because of the already completed pipeline?

There is also the possibility that a new US administration could send a new Ambassador in Sofia to replace Herro Mustafa after January 2021 if Joseph Biden takes office as President.

This could be a reason for the US Embassy to be reluctant to spoil its relations with their Russian counterparts in Sofia and personally with Russian Ambassador Anatoly Makarov for whom the completion of South Stream rebranded as TurkStream 2 may mean a promotion and diplomatic career growth.

The pipe is ready, the answers are missing

In the midst of this endless official correspondence, on November 9, 2020, the top Russian state news agency, cited by a number of Bulgarian media, suddenly reported that the Bulgarian section of the gas pipeline had been completed.

“The construction of Balkan Stream has been de facto completed, and the Bulgarian section of the pipeline is connected to the one in Serbia,” TASS announced, citing an insider source involved in the construction of the gas pipeline.

It turned out that the authorities and the contractors were more concerned not whether the pipeline will be put into operation given the risk of US sanctions, but whether there will be a lavish feast on the occasion of the completed work.

“Balkan Stream has been completed, it is connected to a gas pipeline in Serbia, there are no official events related to the completion of the pipeline due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the ceremony is likely to take place later,” TASS wrote, citing an unnamed source in Sofia.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov announced in October that the construction of the Balkan Stream gas pipeline in Bulgaria was “almost complete”, stressing again that with the implementation of the Balkan Stream project Bulgaria would “become a regional strategic gas distribution hub and would ensure diversification of gas supplies.”

In fact, Balkan Stream is an extension of the TurkStream gas pipeline through Bulgaria. For the US State Department, it is the same gas pipeline despite being called in official documents “an expansion of the gas network of the company Bulgartransgaz in parallel with the northern main gas pipeline to the Bulgarian-Serbian border.”

The first section of TurkStream was launched on January 8, 2020. The pipeline runs from Russia to the shores of Turkey across the Black Sea’s bottom. This has already hurt Bulgartransgaz in terms of transit fees, as the largest consumer, Turkey, had previously received for years its gas through the old Trans-Balkan gas pipeline Russia – Ukraine – Moldova – Romania – Bulgaria.

But since the beginning of 2020, Ankara is receiving its main volumes from Gazprom through TurkStream. Thus, Moscow managed to punish not only Ukraine but also the countries along the route by cutting to a minimum the transit fees that Bulgaria would receive from now on because it would be transmitting gas only to smaller energy consumers such as Serbia and Northern Macedonia.

Bivol also requested a position on the project from Deputy Prime Minister for European Union (EU) Funds Tomislav Donchev and Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Policy Mariana Nikolova, asking them whether they thought that construction equipment purchased with EU funds should be at TurkStream 2 sites and whether the government was ready to put the pipeline into operation and risk US sanctions.

As expected, our questions were ignored.

At the same time, IDC, the Serbian subsidiary of Gazprom, filed a complaint with the Brusartsi police over the entry of “unidentified persons” into “its territory” after the action of BOETS and Bivol in front of the company’s office in early October.

Meanwhile, the District Prosecutor in the town Lom is still examining the complaint filed by BOETS and Bivol with the Brusartsi police over the use of physical force by unknown Russian-speaking IDC employees, who tried to push members of the two organizations outside the barrier of the municipal terrain used by IDC as a base.

On November 9, BOETS also submitted an official request to the DNCC and the MRDPWs to stop the work on the gas pipeline due to the lack of adequate construction control and possible violations along its route.

***

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