Bulgaria opposes immediate EU sanctions on Russia

  

The Bulgarian foreign minister, Kristian Vigenin, has been instructed by his ruling Socialist party “not to haste with harsh measures” against Russia following the Crimea referendum, as EU ministers gather in Brussels in an attempt to impose sanctions on Moscow.

Vigenin, who was an MEP before he took the job of foreign minister last May, was harshly criticised by his fellow socialists for having declared that Bulgaria would not recognise the Crimean referendum and for having visited Ukraine and meeting with the country’s new leaders. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is the leading partner of the country’s minority government.

BSP leader Sergei Stanishev, who is also the president of the Party of European Socialists, said that Bulgaria “should not be among the hawks in the European Union” towards Russia.

“Besides the common position of the European countries we have our national interests," said Stanishev in comments reported by the daily Standart. "First, they reflect the fact that we have between 250 and 300 thousand ethnic Bulgarians in Ukraine. We are close geographically to the region. In case of destabilisation we would be the first to suffer," he said.

The BSP leader also remarked that that Bulgaria depended on energy supplies from Russia and of the income brought by Russian tourists.

“All this must be taken into account when forming the Bulgarian national position and behavior in this matter," said Stanishev.

Bulgarian socialists appear to be supportive of Russia’s intervention in Crimea. Alexander Simov, a journalist from the Socialist daily Duma who was sent to Crimea as an observer, said yesterday he believed that the referendum vote was legitimate.

"I am going to watch the whole process. To see ... that it is a legal referendum," he said. "So I think it is going to be very legal," Simov said, as quoted by the Voice of America. Simov’s name appears on the list of the BSP candidates for the European elections.

Square brackets

The news from Sofia puts in doubt the EU's ability to finalise a deal on sanctions against Russia as foreign ministers meet in Brussels today. Unanimity among the 28 EU member states is needed for taking a decision.

According to the draft meeting conclusions, seen by EurActiv, the most important element of the document is in square brackets, meaning it has not been agreed by ambassadors before the ministers' arrival.

The respective text reads: “The Council recalls the statement of the EU Heads of State and Government of 6 March which set out that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia needed to start within a few days, including through multilateral mechanisms, and produce results within a limited timeframe.

"[In light of the developments of last week, and in the absence of any such results, the Council has decided to introduce additional measures, including travel restrictions and an asset freeze against persons responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, including actions on the future status of any part of the territory which are contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution, and persons, and entities associated with them. The Council has furthermore decided to cancel the EU-Russia Summit scheduled to take place in Sochi in June this year.]”

According to press articles, Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi said on Thursday that if the European Union put in place the third phase of sanctions against Russia, a “long economic war” could ensue, with grave impacts on Hungary.

Asked whether this would mean that Hungary would oppose sanctions at today’s meeting, a Hungarian diplomat reminded EurActiv that his country, together with the Visegrad group, had likened the events in Crimea to the 1956 crackdown by the Soviet army of the Budapest uprising and of the 1968 invasion by the Warsaw Pact of Czechoslovakia.

The Visegrad or V4 group consists of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Timeline: 
  • 17 March: EU ministers meet in Brussels to decide sanctions on Russia;
  • 20-21 March: EU leaders hold regular Spring Summit in Brussels, Ukraine may sign political chapters of EU Association Agreement. 
  • 20 March: Russian parliament expected to ratify Crimea’s annexation. 
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Comments

Dirck's picture

First of all, Europe can only be effective in the Ukrainian crisis if it acts united, a country-by-country approach plays nicely into Putin's hand;
Second, it is quite synical if Ukraine, where people have been demonstrating for months and gave their lives for so called European values, is now reminded by the Bulgarian socialists that these values are inferior to concerns about the supply of Russian gas and Russian tourists;
Third, Crimea used to attract 4.5 million tourists from Ukraine per year, they will likely go elsewhere now. Bulgaria would by a logical alternative, provided it upholds European values with the same courage as the Ukrainians did!

Finally, Bulgaria was in the 19th and most of the 20th century a client state of Russia, did nothing change?

Dirck's picture

First of all, Europe can only be effective in the Ukrainian crisis if it acts united, a country-by-country approach plays nicely into Putin's hand;
Second, it is quite synical if Ukraine, where people have been demonstrating for months and gave their lives for so called European values, is now reminded by the Bulgarian socialists that these values are inferior to concerns about the supply of Russian gas and Russian tourists;
Third, Crimea used to attract 4.5 million tourists from Ukraine per year, they will likely go elsewhere now. Bulgaria would by a logical alternative, provided it upholds European values with the same courage as the Ukrainians did!

Finally, Bulgaria was in the 19th and most of the 20th century a client state of Russia, did nothing change?

Kostas's picture

Stanishev is an embarrassment and should resign from the PES's leadership now. Schulz president of the Commission = Russia's corrupt Bulgarian stooge pulling the strings in Europe. Vote PPE, people, and don't let the Kremlin-dominated socialists anywhere near power.

des's picture

to Drick: "Bulgaria was in the 19th and most of the 20th century a client state of Russia, did nothing change?"

It must be very uplifting to make short sharp points on matter of policy. Ignorance certianly helps.

Lets us go one by one. Bulgaria was established in 1878. It ceased all diplomatic relations with Russia in 1887. It sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary in WWI. It did everything possible to stay neutral in WWII and joined Germany only when the Wehrmacht was on the opposite side of the Danube.

The client policy started in 1947 after the crashing of traditional democtactic parties. After that, the Bulgarian Communist Party (now Bulgarian Socialist Party) did indeed act as a Bulgarian branch of KPSS.
After 1989 the internal struggle with the Bulgarian Socialists was and still remains a fight for independence from Russia.

Now why should the leader of this party, Mr. Stanishev, be the current head of the European Socialist Party today is beyond me. But that should be a question of another not so Eastern type of clientelle.

vikra's picture

It is shameful that narrow interests of certain countries block joint action of EU towards Russian expansionism. Even more shameful is that is coming from the Bulgaria, country which gravely suffered under communist regime orchestrated by Russia.

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