Bulgaria has not given up on plans to build the South Stream gas pipeline despite being asked to suspend work by the EU.
Energy Minister Dragomir Stoynev said today he saw the Gazprom-led project to deliver Russian natural gas to Europe via the Black Sea and Bulgaria as irreversible, despite the fact that Bulgaria said on Sunday it had halted work on the pipeline after the EU and USA expressed concerns about the project.
Designed to bypass Ukraine, the pipeline has raised tensions between the EU and Russia after Brussels asked Sofia last week to suspend work pending a decision on whether it complies with EU law.
Stoynev said in a statement he was certain South Stream would be built once disputes over how to structure it as a European project are cleared.
"If we look at the situation strategically and without emotions, the South Stream project looks irreversible and important for both Europe and Bulgaria," Stoynev, who is on a visit to China, said.
"I am convinced that all pending issues will find a solution."
In response to Bulgaria halting work, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency on Monday as saying: "(We) need to check, it is too early to say anything."
European Commission spokeswoman Sabine Berger declined to comment on Stoynev's statement, but welcomed the position of EU member Bulgaria to halt work.
"This is an important step in response to the concerns raised by the Commission last week," she said.
"In the recently adopted European Energy Security Strategy, the European Commission has called for a discussion on South Stream at the upcoming European Council so that a common EU approach can be taken."
Washington has also warned Sofia that picking a consortium led by sanctions-hit Stroitansgaz to build the Bulgarian section of the pipeline could result in sanctions on Bulgarian companies involved.
South Stream is being built to pipe 63 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Russia, beneath the Black Sea, and through Bulgaria into central and southern Europe.
Bulgaria's Stoynev, a staunch supporter of the project, says it will boost the country's energy security and economy. Bulgaria currently gets almost all of its gas from Gazprom via a pipeline through Ukraine.
"We really are actively working to close the open issues with the European Commission, meaning that we have not abandoned the project," Stoynev said.
In neighbouring Serbia, Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic said the government had also not decided to halt development of its stretch of South Stream.
"We will continue to monitor the situation and liaise with the government ...honouring obligations we took on our path to European Union membership," Antic told Reuters.
"The South Stream project is of major importance for (Serbia's) energy security and I believe that the talks between EU, Russia and countries that participate in the project will clarify the situation," Antic said.
State-controlled Gazprom is pushing ahead with the project, expected to be cost around $45bn (£27bn), despite Western sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.