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Alternatives & Analyses: Biden’s victory forces Putin and Borisov to seek early completion of the Turk Stream in Bulgaria

There are many unusual pages in the Turk Stream saga in Bulgaria. Today one more was added with the rash declaration of its completion by the Russian TASS agency. The ‘breaking news’ did not originate in the press office of the contracting authority – Bulgartransgaz, nor from the press office of the Bulgarian Prime Minister, who rarely misses an opportunity to break the news of ribbon-cutting ceremony on any new infrastructure project. This time it was the TASS agency quoting an anonymous ‘informed’ source.

Joe Biden’s winning the US presidential elections pushed the main Bulgarian protagonists in the Turk Stream saga to “hunker down” media-wise and shift to anonymity, letting the Russian media inform the world about the secret “golden welding”, connecting the Bulgarian and Serbian segments of the Turk Stream. All of a sudden Borissov seems to distance himself from any responsibility.

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The primary purpose of such maneuvers on the media front is to present the project as a technical “fait accompli”, thereby immune to U.S. sanctions, as Russian companies, such as the IDC, paid for by Gazprom are involved in the final leg of the project.

The linear part of the Balkan-Turk steam is almost complete as far as the welding works are considered.  However, TASS’s story that “the construction of the Balkan Stream gas pipeline has been actually completed” is downright propaganda.

The deadline given by the Borissov government and Gazprom for the linear part is December 15, 2020. The date was intentionally picked to precede the vote in the U.S. Congress on the National Defense Authorization Act??, which is expected to set out in detail a significantly broader scope for the sanctions on Nord and Turk Stream – 2. The “anonymous sources” from Sofia, hope to present the project as a ‘job done,’ leaving the U.S. administration and the European Commission with no option but to accept the fact of a pipeline laid in the ground.

However, the problem persists as the most critical and sensitive part – the two compressor stations, are far from completion. The compressor turbines are delivered, but their commissioning, hydraulic and real gas tests of the individual pipe segments, certification work, permits and approvals will take a minimum of 5 months, provided there are no additional COVID or sanctions-related delays.

In short, there is ample time for the sanctions to take effect if adopted in the next few weeks and indeed if the new Biden administration takes charge.

Both the Kremlin and the Bulgarian prime minister’s office hope to push through the talking point of “expansion the national network” to avoid clearance of Turk Stream in Bulgaria via the European Commission. But this can hardly happen as the pipeline connects at least two EU countries and will have a tangible impact on the regional gas market.

The whole game plan involving Saudi company “Arkad”, or more precisely its distant copycat, in all likelihood, has been greenlighted in advance at the highest level with the participation of representatives of the Kremlin, the Saudi Royal family and people close to the current U.S. president. This seems a plausible explanation as to why Secretary of State Pompeo in mid-July threatened with sanctions all companies involved in the construction of Turk Stream, including Bulgaria, and three months later a branch company of US Caterpillar Inc. defied his warning and supplied turbines for the compressor stations of Balkan-Turk Stream.

Such reading explains the haste, the silence around the seven dead in the course of the construction works, and a final all-out push to finish the project before Joe Biden enters the White House.

Ilian Vassilev

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