For those worried by the Kremlin’s growing influence in Europe, Bulgaria has long been a prime suspect. As much as 90% of its gas comes from Russia. It is an ardent backer of South Stream, a Balkan gas pipeline that Russia is promoting in defiance of European Union rules on public procurement and energy liberalisation. A Russian presence in the murky worlds of Bulgarian banking and political-party finance has also aroused concern.
This month the issue has come to a head. On June 3rd the EU flatly told Bulgaria to stop work on South Stream, a project also backed by the governments of Austria, Greece and Hungary. The Bulgarian government—a minority coalition of Socialists and a party of ethnic Turks—instantly refused. On the same day the EU temporarily cut tens of millions of euros in regional-development funds, the distribution of which has long been a bailiwick of the Turkish party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS in Bulgarian). The EU has privately threatened to freeze more. This stoked a row inside the coalition between DPS and its Socialist (ex-communist) allies, South Stream’s strongest backers.
On June 8th John McCain, an American senator, on a visit to Sofia, bluntly warned the Socialist prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, over the danger of proceeding with South Stream. America is particularly unhappy about the project. One of the contractors, Stroytransgaz, is owned by Gennady Timchenko, a Russian magnate who is on the White House sanctions list because of his ties to Vladimir Putin.
Source: The Economist, 2014