MOSCOW, October 7 (RIA Novosti) - Serbia on Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to building a leg of the South Stream pipeline, a Russia-led project that would bypass Ukraine to bring natural gas to Europe, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said.
"Everything is fine with the South Stream. We are ready to build it. All preparatory works are running as planned. All other matters will be settled between Russia and Brussels," Ivica Dacic said on the heels of a meeting at the Russian-Serbian intergovernmental committee on trade, economic, and scientific and technical cooperation.
"It's a matter of political agreements," said the senior Serbian diplomat, who is in the Russian capital for a three-day round of talks. He added Moscow and Belgrade had earlier agreed to set up a special working group to deal with the political aspect of the project.
Russia's Gazprom energy giant started building the South Stream gas pipeline across the Black Sea in 2012 to diversify export routes to central and southern Europe. The pipeline is expected to be fully operational by 2018. The first natural gas deliveries are scheduled for late 2015.
The South Stream pipeline route is expected to come ashore in Bulgaria and continue to Serbia, where it is to split in two, with the first branch going through Hungary to Austria and the second through Hungary and Slovenia to Italy. Under the plan, branches are also to be constructed in Croatia and the Bosnian Serb Republic.
Intergovernmental agreements were earlier signed with Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Austria and Croatia in order to implement the construction of the pipeline's onshore sections. However, in August, Bulgaria suspended operations, saying that they did not meet European Commission requirements.
Brussels has long been trying to hamper the project saying it violates EU's Third Energy Package, which stipulates that pipelines in its member countries cannot belong to natural gas producers. Moscow insists that the construction of the pipeline does not contradict the regulations in any way.
Over the past few months, Russia has been seeking to strengthen its cooperation with Serbia amid a freeze in its ties with the European Union, which Belgrade has plans to join. Most recently, it has been announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Serbia on October 16.