ECONOMY

Putin warns Sofia and Athens to pick up the pace on Balkan pipeline

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Greece and Bulgaria yesterday that they need to speed up negotiations on a long-delayed Balkan oil pipeline or Russia may find export routes elsewhere. The -700 million ($900 million) project, which the three countries have been discussing for about a decade, was planned to bring cheaper Russian crude to the Mediterranean, bypassing Turkey’s crowded Bosporus Strait. The pipeline is to pump up to 200,000 barrels of oil per day from Bulgaria’s Black Sea port of Burgas to the Greek port of Alexandroupolis on the Aegean Sea. «We support this project, which we consider important and a priority for consumers of our hydrocarbons in Europe,» Putin said at his annual news conference in the Kremlin. «But if our Greek and Bulgarian partners fail to solve the complex of problems on their side, we will have to increase transit capacities via other countries,» he added. For years, the three countries disagreed on key issues, such as who will build the pipeline, the ownership of the terminals and transit fees. They said last year that the project was finally approved and would be launched in 2009. Russia had said its oil pipeline monopoly Transneft, state-controlled oil firm Rosneft and Gazprom Neft, part of gas monopoly Gazprom, would equally share Russia’s 51 percent of the pipeline, while Greece and Bulgaria would share the remaining 49 percent. Putin said further delay in the negotiations could harm the interests of the Balkan countries and the European Union in general. «In my view, realization of this project should be of vital interest for the European Union, but instead of this we see an unceasing mess, inconsistent with the national interests of both Bulgaria and Greece,» he said.