Interview with Mikhail Krutikhin

Mikhail Krutikhin, the Editor-in-Chief of the Russian Energy Weekly magazine, spoke to Russia Today about Russian and Bulgarian energy co-operation, as the Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev is visiting Moscow.

Russia Today: What does Russia and indeed Bulgaria expect to come out of these two-way talks?

Mikhail Krutikhin: I believe that Bulgarians have come here as a whole delegation because they are worried and they have very good reason to be worried because the Russian government has proclaimed its strategic goal to decrease Russia's dependence on the transit routes for the export of oil and gas. And all the gas that Bulgaria receives comes from Russia, but it has to pass through Ukraine, Moldova and Romania before it reaches the Bulgarian customers. The Bulgarians want to be absolutely sure that this flow of gas does not trickle down. The second reason is Russia's intention to increase gas exports across the Black Sea to Turkey and maybe to build a new route for gas exports via Turkey and southern Europe all the way to central Europe, to Austria. The Bulgarian side is afraid that maybe a new project is going to bypass their territory somehow, via the territories of Greece, Italy or other countries. They want to be sure that they will receive gas.

RT: So why do they not get a bids early for this pipeline making sure that it does happen?

M.K.: They are interested in increasing the gas flow regardless of the destination of that gas flow whether it's across Ukraine or across Turkey. They just want to be sure that they will receive enough gas. And there is another problem that keeps them worried. This is the ability of the Russian government and mostly Gazprom  to provide all this gas that Russia is promising to Europe including Bulgaria, of course, because a year ago President Vladimir Putin promised that Europe is going to get an additional 57 to 60 BLN cubic metres of gas per year  and he said it will happen very soon. However when we take a look at the figures provided by the Russian government we see that the traditional producing sites of Gazprom in Western Siberia are not going to increase production by more than 3 BLN cubic metres per year. It seems that Russia will have to tap new resources in the Barents Sea or in the Yamal peninsula to be able to fulfill that promise. And so far nothing has been done on those great projects, so Bulgarians are worried as well as all the whole Europe.

RT: How useful is Bulgaria to Russia as a secure tool for transporting energy further westward, because of course that is crucial to Russia? Russia is saying time and time again that it is a secure provider of energy.

M.K.: Bulgaria is also very important for Russia if Gazprom is determined to carry out its project of the Southern route across the Black Sea into Turkey and then from Turkey to Bulgaria and possibly other East European and Central European countries. This is a natural transit territory and so Gazprom is very much interested but Bulgaria also has some trump cards up its sleeve because Bulgaria is a part of an international consortium which is called Nabucco. The consortium is planning to build a new pipeline that will bypass the Russian territory. It will come from Turkey along the same route as Gazprom is planning and bring gas from Azerbaijan and possibly from Iran to Europe.

RT: What is Russia's stance on that?

M.K.: Russia is offering its own plan so we have two alternative projects and I am not sure which one of them is going to materialise.

RT: Let us just put energy aside for a second. This is not the first high level meeting between Russia and Bulgaria of late? What else are they going to be talking about today? What are the relations like between the countries in 2007 in your view?

M.K.: I think the relations are going to improve. Mostly because Russia is now very much interested in co-operation with Bulgaria on another great energy infrastructure project. This is the Burgas