Lukashenko Is Building ‘TurkStream’ in Bulgaria with European Money

Nikolay Marchenko

Bulgaria risks sanctions not only by the United States but also by the European Commission (EC) due to the hastily built natural gas pipeline “TurkStream 2” (called “Balkan Stream” by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov). An inspection by Bivol and the Civil Association BOETS (Fighter) at the construction site in the village of Makresh and at the project’s office in the town of Brusartsi in northwestern Bulgarian found that the workers laying the pipe are mostly Russian and Belarusian citizens. It turned out that they are employed by the Belarusian State-owned Beltruboprovodstroy company, which is a long-term subcontractor of Russian energy giant Gazprom. Lithuania removed in 2019 the Belarusian company from the tender for an interconnector to Poland over “national security concerns”. At the same time, an investigation by BIRD.bg revealed that the Saudi “Arkad” and the associated with Cosa Nostra Italian “Bonatti” are only a smokescreen for Russia’s IDC, a subcontractor of the sanctioned by the European Union (EU) and the United States Gazprom.

Bulgaria’s Ambassador in Minsk, Georgi Vassilev, handed a note to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Thursday, October 8, informing it of the Bulgarian government’s decision to recall Vassilev for consultations, the Bulgarian edition of Free Europe reported. The news was also announced by Bulgarian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister from the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) Ekaterina Zaharieva on her Facebook page, after her meeting with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Bratislava. But would Zaharieva also have the courage to act against Lukashenko’s Beltruboprovodstroy?

The sign at the gate states in Russian “Entry by Pass Only”, one more confirmation that Brusartsi has become another enclave of the Russian Federation in Bulgaria. But Gazprom, which has been sanctioned for Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion in Donbass, is not the only company that acts freely and even frivolously on the territory of Bulgaria, a EU and NATO member.

The President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, declared illegitimate by the EU and the United States, is successfully absorbing European funds in Bulgaria through the construction of TurkStream 2, Bivol and BOETS found.

Belarusian workers at the site told BOETS that their direct employer was Beltruboprovodstroy, a State-owned company directly under the authority of the government in Minsk. This is confirmed by a document from the Trade Register of the Republic of Belarus, provided to Bivol by Stas Ivashkevich, a journalist of the opposition Belarusian television BELSAT TV.

At the same time, Bivol’s partner investigative site BIRD.bg published on October 7 on its Facebook page information about over BGN 9 million in EU funds, which may be redirected to the Gazprom project in Bulgaria. The inspection by the teams of Bivol and BOETS in the village of Makresh and in the town of Brusartsi found that there were no Bulgarian workers at the construction sites of TurkStream 2 near the city of Montana.

The government is pouring European funds into the construction of TurkStream, BIRD.bg warned. These are funds under the project “Technical assistance for completion of the preparatory works needed for the start of the construction of the gas interconnector Bulgaria – Serbia”.

This most likely concerns the future interconnector with the Republic of Serbia, which the EC insists on after the gas shortage crisis of 2009. Meanwhile, the interconnector’s route suddenly “coincided” with that of TurkStream AKA Balkan Stream. According to Bulgartransgaz, this is simply an extension of the gas transmission network of Bulgaria, which apparently “accidentally” overlapped with the route of TurkStream 2 to Serbia and Hungary.

“Date of concluding the contract October 10,2020, amount BGN 9,240,420.00, percentage of EU co-financing 85.00%,” BIRD.bg wrote.

At the same time, there is unconfirmed information that the Italian branch of Arkad with an office in Milan may have been bought by Russian companies. Arkad is a top subcontractor of Saudi’s energy giant Saudi Aramco, but IRPI journalist Luca Rinaldi commented for Bivol in 2019 that the company does not have any activity in Italy or in Europe.

Suddenly, this inactive company won the tender for the construction of a gas pipeline in Bulgaria.

“All and any tricks are admissible – circumvention of the Public Procurement Act through smokescreen company Arkad (part of agreements between Gazprom and Saudi Aramko and rather Putin’s agreements, in which Borisov is just a strawman), skipping building permits, eco-assessments, assignments to foreign companies, without going through permit procedures for workers and employees… Not to mention supervisors and Russian security companies that do not have a permit to carry out such activities,” former Bulgarian Ambassador in Moscow, energy expert and political blogger Ilian Vassilev wrote after Bivol and BOETS’ visit in Brusartsi.

Beltruboprovodstroy – threat to Lithuania’s national security

Beltruboprovodstroy filed in 2019 a lawsuit against Lithuania, claiming EUR 10.2 million in compensation for violation of its investor rights.

Despite submitting the lowest price offer of around EUR 74.9 million, the Belarusian company was removed together with partner company KRS (Kaunas, Lithuania) from the bidding process to build the Gas Interconnector Poland – Lithuania (GIPL). This happened on the advice Lithuanian intelligence over national security concerns.

The consortium between Lithuanian companies Alvora and Siauliu dujotiekio statyba was declared the winning bidder.

The Lithuanian government commission vetting deals with strategic companies found that Beltruboprovodstroy’s main customers were Russian and Belarusian companies, including Gazprom.

“The State Security Department (VSD) says in its report to the commission that Beltruboprovodstroy has business links with Gazprom, Stroytransgaz, and Rosneftegazstroy, and has accreditations not only from Gazprom, but also from Transneft and Rosneft. The Belarusian company is involved in Russia’s strategic energy projects, such as the Yamal–Europe gas pipeline,” DELFI.lt and other Lithuanian and Russian media wrote then, which may explain the “secrecy” of the site in Bulgaria’s Brusartsi.

Russian enclave for BGN 0.10 per square meter?

Base 1 in Brusartsi is an office for at least 50 Russian-speaking employees and a warehouse for dozens of containers and pellets with equipment. It is located on the territory of the local municipal market. According to documents obtained by BOETS, including a list of Municipal Council voters in Brusartsi, the councilors have rented the land to IDC for the ridiculous amount of BGN 0.10 per square meter. The decision had been taken unanimously by the Municipal Council, dominated by GERB, including the GERB-nominated mayor.

But a linear meter of the pipeline costs to the Bulgarian taxpayer BGN 10,000, paid by Bulgartrangaz, a company within the State-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding, documents of BOETS also show.

The workers at the construction site were all employees of Beltruboprovodstroy and the Russian company IDC, which built the Serbian section of TurkStream 2. The equipment and the vehicle fleet come from Turkey and Serbia, while some of the vehicles of IDC were with Romanian registration.
The only Bulgarian companies at the sites in Makresh and Brusartsi detected by BOETS and Bivol were engaged in service activities. These were the bus transport company Union Ivkoni, security company SOT 161 and the forwarding operator FreeLine.

The containers with the equipment for the gas pipeline in Brusartsi were marked in Greek but also had stickers of the Bulgarian FreeLine. FreeLine had been established in 2004 and, according to its website, it deals with groupage shipments from Greece and deliveries from the United States and Canada. Its registered address is 1220 Sofia, Bulgaria, 92G Iliyantsi Blvd.

The company claims it is “striving to meet the client’s specific needs”, obviously the specific needs of the Arcade-IDC partnership as well. Also according to its website, “FreeLine Ltd. is an associated member of NSBS – the Bulgarian Association for Freight Forwarding, Transport and Logistics – and of the biggest forwarding network in the world – WCA, which has 4 783 offices in 188 countries”.

Union Ivkoni is one of the most influential companies in the transport sector in Bulgaria. Its owner, Ivaylo Konstantinov, was in the leadership of the Association of Bus Carriers of Bulgaria. According to some sources, Konstantinov is the son-in-law of former MP Ramadan Atalay, who sat for many years in the parliamentary Transport Committee.

Sunflower seeds for… BGN 6 million

“Seeing this site and project, what do you think, do you think that they aren’t any?” was the answer of one of the guards at the Arcade-IDC base in Brusartsi when asked if there were Russian military or security guards there.

After the Bivol reporter and the leader of BOETS were pushed outside the barrier by force, a police patrol arrived at the scene, followed by the chief of the Brusartsi Police Department, Senior Inspector Danail Donchev.

At this point, the assailant, an IDC employee wearing a military uniform of the Russian Federation without insignia, disappeared inside the office and his identity could not be established. The security guard from SOT 161 said the man was a “Russian colleague” but he could not remember his name. “How can I remember the names of 100 people?” he said.

The chatty security guards of SOT 161, who instead of resolving conflicts, let Russian mercenaries masquerading as “guards”, push and shove representatives of Bivol and BOETS, outraged many who watched our live streams on Facebook. The guards kept eating sunflower seeds, taking pictures with their phones, commenting on the political situation in the country and praying that Bivol and BOETS do not cause them to be fired.

But their sunflower seeds already cost BGN 6 million to Bulgarian taxpayers, as that is the amount collected by SOT 161 from government public tenders, according to Bivol’s search engine BIRD. The listed owner of the company is engineer Ivan Videnov.

Bulgaria’s weekly Capital reported in 2017 that SOT 161 was the largest security company in the country and “market leader” after the company bought out its competitor Security Holding in a deal with the British G4S.

According to the publication, SOT 161 provided security to 60,000 sites just in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and deployed 47 patrols work per shift while the total number of sites in the country exceeded 90,000 in 2017.

According to data for 2015, the revenues of SOT 161 were just under BGN 64 million and profit was BGN 8 million. Ivan Videnov told Capital then that “a significant share of revenues comes from the personal security segment”, but did not specify exactly what and whom his company guards so profitably.

Questions without answers

Bulgaria’s National Security Agency (DANS) should explain why companies that are sanctioned on the territory of the EU, such as Gazprom and Beltruboprovodstroy, work freely in Bulgaria and bring their own employees.

The same question could be asked of Serbia, since authorities in Belgrade, led by President Aleksandar Vucic, insist they want their country to become a EU member.

The Prosecutor’s Office should answer the long-standing question why the Italian Bonatti for which the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI), Bivol, and Capital repeatedly wrote that it is connected with the Italian organized crime group Cosa Nostra had not been removed as a participant in the 2019 tender for the gas pipeline.

Moreover, after the Milan-based branch of Arkad won the project, Bonatti quickly turned from competitor to subcontractor.
The question of why Russian security guards run freely in municipal sites in a NATO and EU member state, using force against media and NGOs also remained unanswered.

“We are not commenting,” Danail Donchev, the police chief in Brusartsi, told Bivol.

BOETS announced a new campaign calling on citizens to stop themselves the expensive project of the last remaining European dictators Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko.

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