Bulgaria heads EU bid to end Russia energy-dependency

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The European Commission and Bulgaria agreed to create the EU’s first regional task force as part of the bloc’s Energy Purchase Platform, following Gazprom cutting gas deliveries to Sofia and Warsaw.

The agreement was reached after meetings between Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister and European Commission representatives.

The group will look at gas and electricity needs, prices and flows, and infrastructure aspects, concentrating on the year ahead.

The task force will focus on providing specific regional expertise and know-how to develop and implement the REPowerEU action plan to reduce dependency on Russian fossil fuels, fill storage ahead of next winter and accelerate the decarbonisation of the energy sector.

It will also coordinate the implementation of the joint preparedness plans in the region, including international purchase, storage and interconnections – contributing to the security of supply in Bulgaria and beyond.

Bulgaria will reach out to countries in its neighbourhood on this task force and organise the first ministerial meeting on May 5.

The task force’s work will build on Brussel’s preparations for energy disruption scenarios.

European leaders branded Russia’s announcement it is cutting off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria as “blackmail” and praised EU solidarity as neighbouring countries stepped in.

Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, informed both EU countries that it would halt gas supplies after they refused to pay for the deliveries in roubles — a measure Moscow imposed on so-called “unfriendly” foreign buyers in response to sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

About half of Poland’s imported gas comes from Russia. The share is higher for Bulgaria, which gets at least three-quarters of its gas imports from Russia.

Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen labelled Gazprom’s decision as “yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail”.

She added that it is “unjustified and unacceptable” but sought to strike a reassuring note, stressing that the 27-country bloc is “prepared for this scenario”.

European Council President Charles Michel blasted the move as “another aggressive unilateral; move by Russia.”

He added that he is in contact with Mateusz Morawiecki and Kiril Petkov, Polish and Bulgarian prime ministers.

Petkov said he has been in touch with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of neighbouring Greece, to discuss the situation with both vowing to “continue to work together for energy security and diversification.”

He also added that they are “confident” that the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) will be completed “on time”.

The pipeline will allow Bulgaria to be connected to the Southern Caspian Corridor, which travels through Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan to both Greek and Italian terminals.

The gas cuts do not immediately put the countries into deep trouble. They have worked on getting alternative sources for several years now, and the continent is heading into summer, making gas not as essential for households.

Von der Leyen told reporters that the EU’s response to this “provocation from the Kremlin” would be “immediate, united and coordinated”.

She said Warsaw and Sofia have updated the rest of the bloc on the situation and are now “receiving gas from their EU neighbours”, which she stressed showed the “immense solidarity among us” as well as the “effectiveness of past investments” in infrastructure such as interconnectors.

The Commission reached an agreement with the US to provide additional energy imports this year and in the coming years. Brussels is also working to secure alternative gas supplies from other partners.

Gazprom’s decision, she added, is “a stark reminder that we need to work with reliable partners and build our energy independence.”

“Today, the Kremlin failed once again in its attempt to sow division among member states.”