The Greek debt crisis and Ukraine moving to the brink of collapse are the issues in the limelight. Bulgaria is given less attention to even though this country may soon become another headache for Europe. The Bulgarian government is loyal to the United States but it may turn into a weak link among the East European allies who greatly depend on Washington.
Gary Edward MacDougal, Co-chairman of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to make a pro-Russian government come to power in Bulgaria. He writes that in a September address in Sofia to members of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev compared Moscow’s, as he put it, «stealthy undermining aggression toward Bulgaria» to a «Trojan horse» attempt by Russia to penetrate NATO. Russian won’t need to use force in order to establish control over the country. This is the real fear enunciated by President Plevneliev and echoed by other Bulgarian leaders. Many Bulgarians have long had positive feelings about their former fellow members of the Soviet Union. Besides, Bulgaria is dependent on Russian gas, and Moscow’s ability to turn the energy valve off in winter commands the hearts and minds of Bulgarians.
The survey conducted by Bulgarian Institute of Modern Politics in the period June 26 - July 4 shows that 71, 4% of respondents say no to the plans that envision pre-positioning of US military equipment in Eastern and Central Europe, including in Bulgaria. The «prepositioned» stocks to be stored on allied bases are enough to equip a brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. Only 7, 2% supported the idea. It’s not really important how many weapons systems are going to be deployed. What really matters is the fact that US forces will be stationed on the territory of states that were members of Warsaw Treaty Organization. It runs contrary to all the agreements reached during the days of Gorbachev-Yeltsin rule. The host country was not asked but notified. It was done in a rather condescending manner. American military say the decision is sealed and the only thing to discuss is where exactly the equipment will be stored, according to US Army Colonel Steve Warren, director of Pentagon press operations.
As it happened, nobody heard about the plans in the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense. Even Prime Minister Boiko Borisov known for his pro-US stance, was not notified. Why should Americans do it once he is «ours»?
President Plevniev tried to make it look like Washington is expected to ask his consent for deployment. Until now the matter has not been discussed. At the same time he said Bulgaria would act like a responsible NATO member. This position runs contrary to the opinion of his people but he is afraid that somebody overseas would take his cautious attempts to display alleged independence for impermissible freethinking.
Former Foreign Minister Solomon Isaac Passy offered to station in Bulgaria 1400 tanks instead of 14. While on a visit to Washington from July 13 to 17 incumbent Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said in a servile manner that no other country was as close to Bulgaria as the US and the bilateral relationship is thriving.
Bulgaria assists Ukraine with the rehabilitation of injured punishers who fought in the war zone while tourism from Russia has dwindled by 60% this year. Media has reported on many occasions about Bulgaria providing military aid to Ukraine.
Since some time Western leaders have become reluctant to visit Kiev. They do not want to associate themselves with the regime and what it does. That’s why Petro Poroshenko set much store by the fact that Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev paid an official visit to Ukraine. It started with a very symbolic and disgraceful episode. Vigilant supporters of Maidan movement brought down about 200 white-green-red Bulgarian flags. In the dark they took them for Russian tricolor banners. Everything is seen in the context of confrontation with Russia in the contemporary Ukraine.
The guest did not pay attention. He is dry behind the ears and knows how to swallow national pride. Actually the parties did not discuss the bilateral relationship, except making a ridiculous statement about the intent to join efforts in building a bridge across the Danube «in case the European Union provides the funds». President Plevneliev is known as a Russophobe in Bulgaria. During the visit he focused on accusing Russia of violating the Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. He emphasized that Bulgaria supports the EU sanctions against Russia and wants them to continue.
There is a wide gap between this stance and the sentiments of people. The abovementioned survey says 64, 5% of respondents resolutely spoke against anti-Russian sanctions against only 15% supporting them. The sanctions were opposed by people of all ages: the youth subject to ideological brainwashing to larger extent than others (56%) and older respondents (73%). Even among the supporters of the Reformist Bloc, a centre-right electoral alliance in Bulgaria, the idea of sanctions got 37% of support. That’s what Washington is afraid of – the difference of opinion between the government and the people of Bulgaria. That’s what evokes alarm, not the so-called «hand of Moscow».
The White House makes its allies dance to its tune and shoulder the material burden as well. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov acknowledges that the national agricultural sector lost 80 million euros as a result of the sanctions war with Moscow. He wanted the European Union to compensate the loss but was offered only 300 thousand euros. According to Minister of Economy Bojidar Loukarsky, this year the trade turnover with Russia was down by 15% as a result of sanctions. Since last autumn Russians don’t buy real estate in resort areas. Engineering, defense industry and duel-purpose commodities production – all these branches of economy are hurt.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Dairy products, tomatoes and apples from other countries of the European Union destined for Russia ended up in Bulgaria. This process is uncontrolled. They are cheaper than Bulgarian ones due to larger subsidies. As a result, dairy production and livestock farming are on the brink of collapse. Tourism suffers as Russians prefer to go to other places. Many hotels, especially in small urban areas, are empty.
The situation is serious. Boiko Borisov has greatly contributed into frustrating joint projects with Russia, including the South Stream. This time he had to deviate from what President Plevneliev said. According to him, Bulgaria has nothing to do with the Trojan horse. The Prime Minister told in an interview to the first deputy director general of ITAR-TASS agency Michael Gusman in early July that he wanted the US and the EU to iron out the differences with Russia and end the sanctions as soon as possible,.
He said Russia and Bulgaria had two levels of relations – historic ties immune to outside influence and political relations affected by the contemporary events.
Needless to say that Russophobia is a commodity in demand now, but all in all it does not bring profit and is hard to sell. It brings no gains. It’s certainly not an instrument for making a country prosperous.