SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Bulgaria on Thursday to wean itself from its near-total dependence on Russia for energy and calling for the NATO member to boost anti-corruption efforts.
In meetings with Bulgaria's president, prime minister and foreign minister on Thursday in Sofia, Kerry said he had spent a "significant amount of time" discussing ideas for diversifying their energy supply. He said the U.S. was interested in helping the country take "practical steps to enhance energy security in Bulgaria and across Europe." Bulgaria must move in the direction of "diversifying supplies and distribution and increasing connectivity with neighbors," Kerry told a news conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
Among the ideas being considered are the possible construction of a natural gas pipeline spur from Greece and moving ahead with a stalled contract with Westinghouse Electric Co. to build a nuclear power plant.
"We hope very much that the issues that (the government and Westinghouse) are discussing can be quickly resolved," Kerry said. In addition, he said the Obama administration will send its special energy envoy to Sofia and look into ways that the U.S. Export-Import Bank might be able to assist in financing.
Bulgaria relies on Russia for 85 percent of its gas and 100 percent of its nuclear power, rates that are among the highest in NATO. Kerry said the U.S. understood that Russia's recent cancellation of the South Stream pipeline, which would have run under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, made the need for Bulgarian diversification more urgent.
Kerry, however, stressed that the U.S. push was not aimed at Russia.
"That is not directed against any one country," Kerry said. "It is simply a reality. No country in the world should be totally dependent for its energy supply on one other country. We need diversified supplies across the world."
In later comments to staff at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, he singled out Russia for criticism, accusing it of trying to impose its will on sovereign countries even after the end of the Cold War. "Obviously the battle was won, and here we are today in 2015, and Russia is still trying to impose on people its will, still trying to reduce people's choices and still trying to affect the internal politics of another country in order to control it," Kerry said.
"So this still a time of trial; it's a time of challenge," he said.
Kerry also raised security issues, given current tensions with Russia over Ukraine, and said the U.S. was unwavering in its NATO commitment to come to Bulgaria's defense in the event it is attacked. He said the U.S. would step up joint military exercises with Bulgaria and also boost its assistance to the country to modernize its defenses.
On corruption, Kerry said it was imperative that graft be reined in if Bulgaria is to achieve its economic aspirations.
"To realize its potential as a strong and modern and prosperous democracy Bulgaria must strengthen its rule of law and curb corruption," he said.
By MATTHEW LEE (Associated Press)