SOFIA – Bulgaria will sign a long-term natural gas deal with Russia’s Gazprom by the end of the year to ensure regular supplies, rather than focus on diversifying, its energy minister said. Amid calls from European Union states to reduce dependency on Russian energy resources, Rumen Ovcharov said Bulgaria, which will join the Union on January 1, should first guarantee supplies and then seek different sources. «Bulgaria will have guaranteed long-term supply of natural gas. The contract with Gazprom will be signed by the end of the year, and after that we can think of diversification,» he told an economic forum. He did not elaborate on details of talks that have been going on since January, when Sofia rejected a Gazprom demand to change its transit gas contract, which expires in 2010, because it would raise the price of natural gas in Bulgaria. Gazprom now pays fees for its gas transit to Bulgaria in form of gas set at around $83 per thousand cubic meters, compared with the $257 Bulgaria pays for supplies not covered by that contract. Ovcharov said that, as a future EU member, the Balkan country will follow Brussels’s energy guidelines, but talk of diversifying by the bloc’s current members had not prevented them from signing individual deals with the Russians. «We all talk how bad Gazprom and Russia are, but this talking did not stop France from signing a 30-year contract for Russian natural gas, nor did it stop Germany for doing the same, as well as Austria,» he said. «What should Bulgaria do? Join in the talking and then find itself without natural gas supplies in several years?» Ovcharov said Sofia will try to decrease its dependence on imported energy resources by developing nuclear power, exploiting local coal resources and boosting the usage of renewable energy and biofuels. He said the Socialist-led government will attempt to take advantage of the geopolitical position of Bulgaria and work on major strategic energy projects to pass through its territory. Bulgaria supports the construction of the $5.8 billion Nabucco gas pipeline, aimed at delivering central Asian gas to Austria, as well as a Russian plan to build a gas pipeline under the Black Sea, through Turkey and possibly Bulgaria to Europe. Ovcharov said the construction of a 700-million-euro oil pipeline linking the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas with the Greek port of Alexandroupolis on the Aegean will also increase the energy independence of the country.