SOFIA (AFP) – Bulgaria and Greece insisted yesterday they wanted to sign an agreement with Russia by the end of the year to begin a long-stalled pipeline project to channel oil from the Caspian Sea to the Aegean. «We are determined that the agreement should be signed by year-end… We discussed the need to speed up work on the project. If in the next days we do not receive a proposal from Russia, Bulgaria and Greece are ready to each submit their own proposals» for the text of the agreement, Bulgaria’s Economy and Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov said. Greek Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas, who arrived in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on Thursday after visiting Moscow, said Russia was also willing to sign the agreement by the end of the year. Negotiations between the three countries over the 280-kilometer Burgas-Alexandropoulis pipeline to the Aegean Sea have been ongoing for 14 years. Meant as a way to avoid shipping through the busy Bosporus Strait, the project will transport Russian oil by tanker from the port of Novorossiysk on the Caspian Sea to the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas. It will then be carried by an overland pipeline to Alexandroupolis in northeastern Greece. The pipeline is expected to cost about $900 million (709 million euros) and transport about 35 million tons of Russian oil per year. «The Burgas-Alexandroupolis project is of strategic importance as it places the countries in the region on the international energy map,» Sioufas said yesterday. Ovcharov added that Bulgaria was ready to drop its initial demand for the three countries to hold equal shares of 33 percent each in the project and to agree to let Russia hold a majority stake. But he added that Bulgaria will not accept less than a 24.5-percent stake. In September, Greece also said it would agree to give Russian companies the majority stake in the pipeline.