Bulgaria's natural gas consumption has been cut by two thirds since Tuesday morning as Russia cut off gas supplies, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said Tuesday.
Speaking at a special press conference after an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers convened over the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, Stanishev noted that the country will have to rely only on its reserves at the Chiren storage facility, which has 570 million cubic meters of natural gas.
The reserves could fuel the Bulgarian economy with about 4.5 million cubic meters of gas daily, which was about one third of the country's normal daily consumption, he added.
The prime minister guaranteed that natural gas supplies for public establishments such as hospitals, schools, and kindergartens, and for central heating would be a priority for the government.
"We will do our best so that the people don't have to feel the results from the gas shortage and the effects of the emerging crisis," he said.
He also stated that Bulgaria had received no official prior warning of the termination of the supplies.
"It is not right to make Bulgaria a hostage in such a conflict," Stanishev said.
Bulgaria's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin described the present situation, in which gas supplies was stopped without any warning, as a precedent that would influence the European Union's energy policy.
Bulgaria's Energy and Economy Minister Petar Dimitrov defined the cutting off of the supplies as a severe blow to the Bulgarian economy, but he was optimistic about the crisis being resolved soon as negotiations between Russia and Ukraine were continuing.
Dimitrov is going to meet with representatives of 60 large-scale Bulgarian industrial producers Wednesday to inform them of the restricted gas consumption policy.
Dimiter Gogov, CEO of Bulgaria's state-owned gas monopoly Bulgargaz, said the gas supplies contract with Gazprom was a commercial one, and that Bulgaria was entitled to sue for compensation.
Russian natural gas supplies to Bulgaria, which cover about 90 percent of the country's needs, has been reduced by 10-15 percent from Jan. 3 in the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine dispute over pricing.
Russia turned off natural gas supplies to Ukraine on Jan. 1 after the two nations failed to reach an agreement on gas prices for 2009. That has resulted in downsizing gas supplies to other European countries, which has already affected Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.