SOFIA, Bulgaria, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Private Turkish natural gas suppliers are seeking opportunities to make inroads into the Bulgarian market, Energy and Economy Minister Delyan Dobrev says.
Speaking Friday on Bulgarian National Television, Dobrev said his meeting last week in Ankara with Turkish counterpart Taner Yildiz and representatives of private gas companies revealed interest in moving gas to Bulgaria as it seeks to lessen its dependence on Russian supplies, the Sofia News Agency reported.
"Bulgaria is also interested because we have made a decision to liberalize the gas market in the country," Dobrev said.
Yildiz added that any Turkish company seeking to export gas to Bulgaria is free to do so.
"If there are private sector companies that wish to export natural gas for Bulgaria, they can apply for a license," the Turkish minister said last week.
The comments indicated that private companies from Turkey will probably become intermediaries in moving new gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria, the Sofia newspaper Standart reported.
The publication said Sofia and Baku have agreed to supplies of at least 1 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.
It added the latest comments implied that Turkey, which had previously been seen as a transit nation in the movement of Azeri gas to Bulgaria, has secured 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year from the Shah Deniz II field for its own use and is planning to become an authorized reseller to third parties such as Bulgaria.
Sofia is almost totally dependent on Russian supplies for its natural gas -- a situation the United States and European Union has urged it to try to remedy, especially following the 2009 "gas war" between Russia and Ukraine, during which supplies to Bulgaria were cut off for three weeks in the middle of winter.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in March announced his country would build a cross-border gas interconnector with Turkey, saying the project, under discussion for years, would go ahead.
Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov said in June the countries would step up bilateral cooperation in energy, asserting it was "crucial for both Bulgaria and Turkey but also for all the Europe."
He said a new gas interconnector could become a part of the future Nabucco pipeline, China's Xinhua news agency reported.
Turkish Ambassador to Bulgaria Ismail Aramaz said in April that technical studies for the interconnector were under way and that it would likely carry gas from its Caspian Sea fields, as well as Turkmen gas and fuel from northern Iraq.
The Turkey-Bulgarian pipeline discussions are coming as part of a broader move to step up political and cultural ties between the two countries.
Dobrev went to Ankara last week as part of broader delegation that included Mladenov, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Economy, Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov and other high-ranking government officials, the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported.
The two sides signed a document creating a Turkish-Bulgarian High-Level Cooperation Council and agreed on new levels of bilateral cooperation in such fields as the economy, transportation, tourism, culture, environment, defense and broadcasting.