Construction work on the 484-kilometres pipeline in Bulgaria that will serve as an extension of the Russian gas export pipeline, TurkStream, has been completed, with the project now moving into the commissioning phase.

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The project will enable the transportation of Russian gas from Turkey using an existing segment of old Transbalkan pipeline in the eastern part of Bulgaria before it enters the newly built pipeline, known as Balkan Stream, running westwards towards Serbia.

Russian authorities have repeatedly expressed disappointment with the delay in the construction of the onshore connector in Bulgaria as the lack of export options preventing Gazprom from starting operations of the second line of TurkStream, running across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey.

Russian state news agency Tass reported on Monday, quoting an unidentified building contractor executive, that construction of Balkan Stream is now complete.

Total annual capacity of the two lines of TurkStream — commissioned at the end of 2019 — is 31.5 billion cubic metres of gas, with about half of it destined for the Turkish market, and the remaining volume for Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

Counterproductive?

However, industry analysts in Sofia said that the new pipeline actually runs counter to Bulgaria's recent efforts to turn the country into a regional gas hub and obtain better energy prices.

After spending nearly €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) on Balkan Stream, Bulgaria has “guaranteed the monopoly of Russian gas in the region”, while its pipeline operator, Bulgartransgaz, significantly increased its total debt, according to managing partner of Sofia-based Innovative Energy Solutions Ilian Vassilev.

The price of gas, delivered by Gazprom to Bulgaria was three times more expensive in July than in Ukraine, which halted direct purchases of Russian gas several years ago and now imports gas from the European spot market via its connectors with Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, he added.

Speaking recently at the Ukrainian Gas Forum in Kiev, Vassilev explained that Gazprom has booked 90% of the annual capacity of the old Transbalkan pipeline in Bulgaria — or 19.3 Bcm per annum — for the next 15 years, making the transit of non-Russian gas from Turkey and Greece via Bulgaria to Serbia, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine “impossible”.

The Transbalkan pipeline — which runs along the shore of the Black Sea — crosses Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria before splitting into two lines, terminating in Turkey and Greece.

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has, according to Vassilev, “chosen a role of being a Gazprom's subcontractor instead of making Bulgaria an important and independent player by taking advantage of its geopolitical location".