No decision on Russia-backed pipeline before 2011: Bulgaria

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Bulgaria will not make its final decision on whether to join a Russian-backed oil pipeline to Greece until February 2011 at the earliest, Finance Minister Simeon Djankov said Friday.

"Bulgaria's ministry of the environment is currently reviewing the enviromental impact assessment for the project," state BTA news agency quoted Djankov as saying in parliament.

"The ministry is... expected to put the project up for public discussion and issue its final environmental impact assessment on the project in February 2011," he added.

The government would then need to again assess the economic feasibility of the project before giving it the green light, Djankov said.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov recently hinted that Bulgaria could drop the plan for the 280-kilometre (174-mile) pipeline from its Black Sea port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis in Greece, due to environmental concerns and the economic crisis.

The planned pipeline would carry oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe avoiding the busy Bosphorus strait, but it would also pass through protected nature reserves near Burgas.

"We have not received any official notice so far that Bulgaria is dropping any of the projects with Russia," the vice chairman of Russia's State Duma Valery Yazev told Bulgarian journalists in a video conference on Thursday.

Bulgarian energy officals and Borisov himself were expected to travel to Moscow in mid-July for talks on a series of Russia-backed projects in Bulgaria, including the pipeline, he added, although the government in Sofia has yet to confirm Borisov's trip.

"It is not a tragedy even if Bulgaria decides to withdraw (from the pipeline project)," Yazev added.

"There will always be other countries ready to join in and Russia can always re-route the project."

However Yazev warned that Bulgaria's changing stance on the project "hinders work."

"We cannot wait for Bulgaria's decision forever," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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