Energy is pulling Bulgaria back into Russia’s orbit

By Ashira Morris, Foreign Policy

Bulgaria’s caretaker government had only been in power for three days before protesters showed up in front of the president’s office calling for the government to resign.

The Sofia demonstrations were prompted by the news that the new government was considering restarting its contract with the Russian energy giant Gazprom after Bulgaria’s gas supply was cut in April. “This isn’t Moscow,” protesters chanted, a common refrain at Sofia demonstrations.

Gazprom covered more than 90 percent of Bulgaria’s gas supply until the country, along with Poland, refused to pay in rubles. The EU had set a goal of ending dependence on Russian fossil fuels before the end of the decade, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Bulgaria was one of the first countries to have gas supplies cut as Russia weaponized its control over the bloc’s supply.

The government of Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who refused Russia’s demands in April, lost a vote of no confidence in June. The coalition government he was leading dissolved, and, in August, a new caretaker government was installed by President Rumen Radev, an independent aligned with the Russia-sympathizing Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

The caretaker government came into office with fatalist messages, especially about Bulgaria’s energy supply. One of its main accusations: blaming the prior government for failing to secure enough gas for winter. Before leaving office, the Petkov government oversaw the completion of a gas interconnector with Greece and secured seven tankers of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG), but both arrangements had final steps the caretaker government needed to complete.

Instead, the new leadership—appointed to bridge the gap until elections on Oct. 2—has been paving a path back to Gazprom. In a press conference on Aug. 22, interim Energy Minister Rossen Hristov said that a return to the Russian provider was “inevitable.”

Standing up to Gazprom in April was a major shift in Bulgaria’s approach to Russia. But the caretaker government can, in their short time in power, reorient the country. That’s why “This situation should not be underestimated,” said Genady Kondarev, a regional analyst for the climate think tank E3G. “Bulgaria is a geopolitical switch at the moment, which makes us more important than just seeing Bulgaria as a place with a small gas consumption.”

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