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  Some time ago, I was approached by an established Bulgarian journalist who was trying to broker an interview with a Russian TV crew, ostensibly working for the international program of Rossiya 24 – one of the main Kremlin channels. Having rich, including negative experience with Russian journalists, who often creatively edit recorded content – blending unrelated parts so that the interviewee could easily appear as a retard – or just dump the interview altogether, I refused initially.   The last time, a TV crew from Moscow’s city channel, TVTZ, came over to shoot a propaganda slot, portraying Bulgaria as a totally devastated country after it joined the EU and NATO. These crude propaganda shots are meant for home use, aimed at convincing the Russian audience that the former brethren

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gazoprovod

  The Russian government can do little to undermine the competitiveness of alternative supplies along the Southern Gas Corridor. Moreover, the suppliers’ list is rapidly expanding with new gas fields in the Azeri offshore of the Caspian (Absheron and Shah Deniz 3), Turkmenistan (swaps already under way via Iran with Azerbaijan), Iran, Northern Iraq and the Eastern Mediterranean. All this clearly alludes to the feasibility of alternative gas exports via Greece and Bulgaria to the rest of the EU. Gazprom’s nightmares are just starting to mature as soaring production and transportation costs within Russia do not leave much room for further cost-cutting.   Militarizing the Caspian Sea   To block the development and export of Caspian gas, including via the Trans-Caspian pipeline, Moscow decided to relocate its flotilla from Astrakhan

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Source: icgb.eu

  Shortly after President Aliev inaugurated the first phase of the Southern Gas Corridor and announced the opening of the TANAP pipeline on June 12th, Russia beefed up its wartime machine to block competition to its gas supplies in Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. The timing of the agreement between the Turkish government and Gazprom on the onshore segment of Turkish Stream matched to the day the news from Azerbaijan. Ostensibly, this a legitimate defense of Gazprom’s market shares, having already lost substantial chunks in the diversified market of Turkey and Greece – where it accounts for 50-60% of the gas imports.   When the periscope moves on to Bulgaria – the bounty is a complete and seemingly durable monopoly. Yet, even in this small market, the Russian state company has

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gasprom

  Margrethe Vestager, the EU Commissioner for Competition, made a long-awaited announcement May 24th, outlining the final decision on the anti-trust investigation against Gazprom. The media headlines picked different angles, some cheered the move for defending CEE customers, others pointed to a more pessimistic and pragmatic read – no fine for Gazprom. The press release alluded to the main achievement in the eye of the watchdog – the Russian gas giant had finally agreed to play ball. At a closer look, feelings are mixed and certainly a far cry from unqualified praise for the DG COMP’s work as the expectations in the CEE countries that Gazprom will be disciplined and punished for abusing its monopoly status were naturally greater.   The decision would undoubtedly raise eyebrows, when compared with a

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  The System Spill over   By proximity, Bulgaria mirrors Russian autocratic tendencies, including mimicking the state oligarchy model. Unlike Russia, however, the Bulgarian version can’t be sustained on “natural” resources – oil, gas, nuclear fuel-based wealth. Redistribution can be effectuated on added value and GDP growth, or thereafter on the budget accumulated taxed economic output. Bulgaria’s autocracy has limited margins for self-propelled growth and wealth sharing, which implies greater reliance on grand corruption mechanisms.   The Kremlin’s GDP sustains its dynamics even on holidays as the oil and gas industry turns round the clock. Bulgarian GDP, however, must be generated and incomes earned.   In Russia, the population exhibits extreme patience, willing to accept sacrifice in the name of “stability” (note the overlay in the jargon of the ruling

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gaz

  The need to move beyond the Balkan Gas Hub “Russia-only” or “Russia-mainly” paradigm seems indispensable if the ‘hub’ project – in the broad sense – has any chance.   The talk of billions of cubic meters of natural gas from non-Russian sources deserves a serious look to the north, but mostly to the south – The Southern Gas Corridor.   Yet what seems logical to everyone, does not inspire the management of the TSO of the Bulgarian gas system. The fact that none of these routes – TANAP, TAP or the Greek-Bulgaria Interconnector – contain specific numbers for potential gas flows makes things seem pre-ordained. The BGH essentially seems to be conceived as a redistribution center for Russian gas.   The likelihood of non-Russian gas emerging both at the

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hub balkan1

    Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.   The Balkan gas hub has become synonymous and in many ways a substitute for Bulgaria’s energy policy in the field of natural gas. In order to avoid speculating about the concept’s different variations, hereinafter is the official project draft, as presented by the national TSO, Bulgartransgaz, with a price tag above USD 2 billion.   Although this might not be the latest update, as it does not fully accommodate developments from Turkish Stream, the map is a fine departure point for an analytical exercise, explicitly demonstrating the virtues and the shortcomings in the conceptual design and implementation phase.     The key question is – what does Bulgaria strive to achieve?   To begin with, the country’s energy policies should not

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1

  Two events overshadowed the geopolitical landscape on the eve of President Trump’s visit to Poland to attend the Three Seas Initiative Summit. The TSIS is a joint Polish-Croatian project, launched in 2016, with the aim of strengthening trade, infrastructure, energy and political cooperation among countries bordering the Adriatic, the Baltic and the Black seas. Twelve countries are members: Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.   The fact that the American President will preach the case to CEE leaders for US LNG imports comes as no surprise, yet there is a hidden context and a more complex backdrop against which both the expectations and the deliverables of the visit should be judged.   The Case for US LNG gas   Washington has

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  THE NEW US SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA AND THE STRAINS IN TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS     In a matter of a week, the cards in the geopolitical exchange between the US and Russia have been dramatically shuffled. The new bill, which passed by an overwhelming (97-2) majority in the US Senate, signals potential tectonic moves in transatlantic, EU and West-Russia relations.   Long before the EU public could read into the fine print of the US draft legislation, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern warned in a joint statement that Europe’s energy supplies were “a matter for Europe, not for the United States.”   It is worth looking deeper into the semantics and the fallout of this bitter exchange.   First, energy supplies and energy security are

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gazoprovod

  Gazprom again is launching its mothballed project of bypassing Ukraine with Russia’s own version of a ‘Southern Gas Corridor’. On May 4 the Audacia pipe-laying vessel, run by Allseas Group, reached Anapa on the Russian coast of the Black Sea. Ten days later, another vessel of Allseas, the world’s largest pipe layer Pioneering Spirit, also made it to the Black Sea through the Bosporus to join the operation.   Allseas had been contracted by Gazprom in April 2014 to build the second string of the South Stream pipeline project after Italy’s Saipem had been awarded a contract for the first string. After the failure of the South Stream idea, Gazprom severed the contract with Saipem but asked Allseas replace the Italians in building the initial string of the pipeline,

This entry was posted in The Region and tagged , , , , , , by Mikhail Krutikhin.

About Mikhail Krutikhin

Analyst and consultant on the oil and gas industry and politics in Russia; co-founder of and analyst with the RusEnergy consultancy in Moscow; editor-in-chief of The Russian Energy weekly newsletter. He previously served as editor-in-chief for the Russian Petroleum Investor and as associate editor for the Caspian Investor monthly magazines. Between 1972 and 1992, he worked for the TASS news agency in Moscow, Cairo, Damascus, Tehran, and Beirut, rising from correspondent to chief of bureau. Krutikhin graduated from Moscow State University majoring in Iranian linguistics, but later obtained his Ph.D. in modern history.