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Bulgaria and the Eurasian Union: Back to the USSR?

Posted on the 29 May 2012 by Window On Heartland @WindowHeartland
Bulgaria and the Eurasian Union: back to the USSR?As of January 1, 2012, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia are part of a Common Economic Space (CES). The regional integration of the post-Soviet space has always been one of the fix points in the agenda of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has recently expressed his desire that the economic alliance between Minsk, Astana and Moscow may serve as a basis for the creation of a broader Eurasian Union open to all former Soviet republics. Nevertheless, the borders of such a bloc may not be limited to those of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
According to the participants to a round table of the ruling party United Russia held in Moscow after the launch of the idea, the Russian Federation should seek to attract a number of other states to the future Eurasian Union, including some Eastern European countries. Bulgaria, once called the “sixteenth republic” of the USSR for its slavish obedience to the Kremlin, should be one of the countries in Eastern Europe to be invited to join the new formation. “The Eurasian Union should bring together not so much the territories but the peoples and citizens into a unified state body,” declared at the United Russia round table Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister and former ambassador to NATO, who is known for describing Bulgaria as “Russia’s Trojan Horse in the EU” back in 2008. But what is the reality behind such statements?
In January, the Bulgarian government approved a temporary ban on the exploration and extraction of shale gas, and established a 100 million-lev ($65 million) fine for offenders, thereby thwarting plans of US energy company Chevron for fracking in the country. Bulgaria is the second country in the European Union after France to ban the process, which uses a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to open fissures in shale rocks and release gas and oil. Although the moratorium on shale gas tests follows mass protest rallies in twelve several major Bulgarian cities, the decision of Sofia may have also been influenced by the prominent role played in Bulgaria by Gazprom, which controls Overgas, the biggest private gas company in the country.
In July 2010, Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz, a subsidiary of the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), and the Russian gas giant signed a road map for the construction of the Kremlin-backed South Stream gas pipeline, which will start near Novorossiysk on the Russian Black Sea coast and will go to the Bulgarian city of Varna. From there, the pipe is supposed to split in two, one pipeline going to Greece and Southern Italy, and another one going to Austria and Northern Italy through Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia. During Putin’s visit in Sofia in November 2010, the representatives of the two companies signed a shareholders’ agreement for the project company that is to construct the Bulgarian section of South Stream. Both parties will have 50% of the shares in the joint venture.
                                                                                                PLANNED ROUTE OF THE SOUTH STREAM GAS PIPELINE Bulgaria and the Eurasian Union: back to the USSR? Russia plans to launch South Stream in 2015. The pipeline will transport up to 63 billion cubic meters of gas per year under the Black Sea to central and southern Europe, diversifying Russian gas routes away from Ukraine, which currently accounts for 80% of Russian gas transit to EU nations. In addition to Gazprom, three major Western European energy companies – Italy’s Eni, France’s EDF, and Germany’s BASF – are shareholders in the project, whose ultimate goal is to avoid that any disagreement between Moscow and Kiev over gas prices may bring to a stop of supplies to Europe.
Bulgaria is therefore an essential piece of Moscow’s strategy to conquer Europe through its energy weapon. Nevertheless, Russian interest towards economic integration with the Balkan nation also respond to modernization goals, which require that Russia closely cooperates with all those European states that are loyal to Russian economic interests: Finland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and, indeed, Bulgaria. In their turn, the aforementioned countries might find in a Russian-led economic bloc both a reliable source ofcheap energyand a hugemarket fortheir products.
In a time when the Eurasian Union envisaged by Putin is not yet born and the European Union has not yet failed, it is not possible to predict the actual creation of an economic bloc from the Balkans to the Pacific. What is certain is that if one day this project will see the light, Bulgaria, by virtue of its traditional role of Russian ally in South-Eastern Europe, will certainly be one of the most important cornerstones of the new Eurasian geography; a geography that Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia havealready begun toreshape.

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