Pipeline plans upset

SOFIA (AP) – Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov yesterday upset Bulgarian hopes of securing Moscow’s backing for a long-delayed project to construct an oil pipeline from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. After talks with his Bulgarian counterpart, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, Fradkov said that while the project was «attractive,» Moscow still had its doubts whether the Russian-Bulgarian-Greek venture would suit Russian interests. «We need a complex analysis of this project’s expediency,» he said, and insisted that «the distribution of the three countries’ shares (in the venture) should justly reflect the Russian interests.» Fradkov did not elaborate on the share that Russia wants to have in this project, but was apparently pushing for more than the equal 33.3 percent share backed by Bulgaria and Greece. The 285-kilometer (178-mile) line linking Bulgaria’s port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis, Greece, is designed to pipe Russian oil through the Black Sea while bypassing the Bosporus Strait in Turkey. Bulgaria and Greece agreed on the details of the project in 2002 after nearly five years of negotiations, and have been striving to get Moscow’s approval. Russia is the key partner in the project as the pipeline was designed to pump Russian oil. Fradkov, who also sought to secure Bulgaria’s government support for Russian business interests in privatization and construction projects in the Balkan country, said he was satisfied with the talks on the issue. Russian companies have expressed interest in the privatization of a number of power utilities, as well as in the construction of Bulgaria’s second nuclear plant in the town of Belene on the Danube River. Under Saxe-Coburg’s center-right government, the tiny Balkan country, once one of Moscow’s closest allies, became a member of NATO earlier this year and hopes to join the European Union in 2007. Talking to reporters, Saxe-Coburg said potential Russian investors were welcome in the country, pledging Bulgaria «would never set special or discriminatory conditions» for their involvement. Fradkov, who is in Bulgaria on a two-day official visit, was scheduled visit the Black Sea port of Burgas.