четвъртък, 21 януари 2016 г.

The Overgas saga - the story behind

At the surface of it the staged drama with the hypothetical gas supply cut on the eve of the New Year looms a classical contractual non compliance of Gazpromexport - it simply failed to deliver gas to one of its clients in Bulgaria in mid-winter. Yet this seems a non-event for the Russian company - its site is blank and certainly without any reference to the drama that generated headlines in Bulgaria and triggered an emergency situation in the EC.
The fact of the matter that the interpretations were blown beyond any reasonable proportions. There have been similar instances in the past with quantities being delivered later without much fuss. This time is different as the two governments got involved. The Bulgarian PM confessed that he has been victim of a ploy, yet failed to identify the sources and to take remedial action. 
The move was at first interpreted by the Bulgarian PM as a veiled attempt to topple the government recalling a similar chain of events in February 2013 over energy bills that forced his previous government to resign. Gazprom and mostly the Kremlin considering the mid and long term aspects of selling gas to Bulgaria decided to replace Overgas with Bulgargas as their main partner.  
It must have been difficult for the top managers in Gazprom to reason against with the incessant loss of market shares across Europe. Yet for some of the remaining old school gazoviki in St.Petersburg headquarters this decision might have been a difficult bite understanding the underlying message sent to other daughter companies across Europe after 20 years of partnership. I doubt Gazpromexport or the Kremlin would have dared halt supplies without prior notice to their partners in Greece, Turkey or Germany.
One thing is certain, none of the respective governments even less so their Prime Ministers would have ever got involved. This is not a last minute incident - the smoke has been visible for a while. A lot has been going on behind the scenes for envoys shuttling between Sofia and Moscow to make sure that the deal holds water and the Bulgarian government does not refer the matter to Brussels. 
Gazprom and the Kremlin believe they stand more to gain by doing business with Bulgargas and BEH over the mid to long term as at present the Bulgarian state company is controlling 100 per cent of the Bulgarian gas market. Overgas hold a little over 10 per cent share, slowly expanding. 
The story line is simple - one monopoly talking to another monopoly, and the bureaucratic-oligarchic circles behind backing the deal. Competition is  a dirty word.
​Bulgargas has been carefully avoiding to engage with alternative gas suppliers preferring to stick to the contractual exclusivity with Gazrpom until 2023 thereby guaranteeing the Russian state gas company full control over Bulgaria's gas market. 
In 2015 alone Bulgargas turned down proposals from at least four different suppliers, while extending its grip on the local market  expanding the term of contracts witbuyers from one to three years.
Bulgartransgas is also 'helping' ward off competition but playing different legal and technical tricks to disallow access and entry of alternative gas to Bulgaria's gas transport and transit system. The fact of the matter is that at the end of 2015 there has not been a single cubic meter of non-Gazprom gas either sold or transited to/through Bulgaria. This is an impressive record of loyalty to Gazprom.
But this is clearly unsustainable.
I trust the Overgas will be able to find both alternative supplies and diversify its ownership structure with Western strategic partners - if of course Gazprom does not take course to kill the company altogether.
It is an amazing turn of events - diversification coming to Bulgaria not through the state gas company but through Overgas.

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