Bulgaria’s Growing Skepticism Over Russian Black Sea Oil Terminal Fuels Tensions

Bulgarian Distrust of Russia Simmers Over a Black Sea Oil Terminal

Bulgaria Wrestles Control of Black Sea Oil Terminal from Russia

The Rosenets Oil Terminal, jutting into the Black Sea just off the Bulgarian coast, has received Russian crude oil for a quarter-century. This oil has fueled not just Bulgaria’s energy sector, but also a sprawling network of economic and political influence that has closely tethered the nation to the Kremlin.

The amount of oil arriving at the terminal and being used by a nearby Russian-owned refinery was a closely guarded secret, with Russia controlling the piers, the volume meters, and the security forces. But that situation has been changing steadily in recent months.

Control of Rosenets Oil Terminal Shifts from Russia to Bulgaria

As of late, Bulgaria has regained control over the piers and has laid out plans to manage the refinery currently owned by Russian company Lukoil. This is if the latter resists processing non-Russian oil. In a further move away from Russia, Bulgaria put a stop to oil shipments from the country in January.

The loss of Russian control over the facility is an unintended outcome of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This event has caused major setbacks for Moscow in Bulgaria, a country with historical, cultural, and religious ties to Russia.

Bulgaria’s Distrust of Russia Deepens Amid Ukraine Conflict

Historical loyalty to Russia has soured into deep distrust among Bulgaria’s main political parties. This shift is largely due to the conflict in Ukraine. Bulgaria’s government, dominated by pro-Western reformers, took a strong stance against Moscow, expelling 70 Russian diplomats over espionage concerns and arresting several Bulgarian officials suspected of spying for Moscow.

Despite the collapse of this government, succeeding administrations have often adopted an even tougher stance, except for a far-right ultranationalist group. Bulgaria has since ceased all imports of Russian natural gas and opted for America’s Westinghouse over Russia’s Rosatom for nuclear fuel supplies and the construction of new reactors.

Lukoil’s Influence Wanes as Bulgaria Seeks Energy Independence

Former Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, who led the drive to loosen Lukoil’s hold on the oil terminal and the nearby Neftohim refinery, asserted the need for Bulgaria to be “100 percent independent in energy from Russia.” Lukoil, the producer of almost all of Bulgaria’s gasoline and jet fuel, has become a symbol of what many view as Russia’s harmful influence in Bulgaria, the poorest country in the European Union.

Fallout of Bulgaria-Russia Relations Affects Local Economy and Politics

The cooling of relations between Sofia and Moscow has caused unease along the Black Sea coast, where Russians were once key players in the tourism and real estate sectors. The decline in Russian tourism and Lukoil’s potential departure have implications for local employment and the economy. However, opinions vary among Bulgarians, with some expressing indifference toward Russia, while others voice disapproval of President Vladimir Putin.

Movement to Expel Lukoil Amplifies as Bulgaria Seeks Clean Break from Russia

Bulgaria’s political landscape, though divided, has found common ground against Russia and Lukoil. The nation’s politicians are united in their belief that Lukoil’s influence has been detrimental to the country and are pushing for its expulsion as a means to fully disentangle from Russia.

However, the process is fraught with challenges, as the refinery’s operation is essential for Bulgaria’s energy security and the health of its political system. The refinery has had to use non-Russian oil since January, leading to a significant reduction in production. Despite this, the spirit of the Bulgarian people remains resolute, driven by the need to curb Russia’s influence and restore their nation’s independence.