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Putin to Prod Bulgaria Over Belene Plant

Russia is expected to put pressure on Bulgaria to start the construction of a nuclear power plant at Belene during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Sofia, due to start on November 13.

The future of the new 2,000-megawatt power plant will one of the topics dominating energy-centred talks between Putin and his Bulgarian counterpart, Boyko Borisov.

The Kremlin is acutely interested in seeing the project go ahead, as a Russian company, Atomstroyexport, signed in 2006 a preliminary agreement to construct the plant.

A close ally of the Soviet Union during the communist era, Bulgaria remains dependent for fuel on Russian gas and oil.

After Bulgaria’s new government came into office last July, it moved to put the project on hold, reassessing the costs and potential benefits to the country. The project was frozen when several months later a key German investor, RWE, withdrew.

“Putin’s visit is going to increase pressure on Bulgaria to take a decision about Belene’s future,” Ruslan Stefanov, of the Center for the Study of Democracy, a Sofia-based think tank, said.  

Even if Sofia renews its commitment to Belene, this will not solve all current problems related to the plant, he added.

“Bulgaria can’t afford to finance this project, nor has it found an investor for it,” Stefanov explained.

For now, ministers appear divided over the future of Belene.

While the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS yesterday quoted Prime Minister Borisov as saying that he “wholeheartedly” supported the project, last week the finance minister, Simeon Dyankov, said the government wouldn’t pay any money or offer state guarantees to implement it.