Official report: Russia is a threat to Bulgaria

Rosen Plevneliev. London, March 2014. [Chatham House/Flickr]

Russian propaganda, especially via Bulgarian political and economic personalities, and the media, puts the economic and energy security of the country to the test, and undermines its defence capacities, a report published on the website of the Bulgarian defence ministry says.

The 14-page report, Vision 2020, will be presented by the Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev and the caretaker Defence Minister Velizar Shalamanov at the NATO summit on 4-5 September in Cardiff, Wales, reports Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner media in Bulgaria.

According to the report, one of the main risks for Bulgaria is “the new hybrid war, which combines conventional methods with guerrilla, cybernetic and information war”.

“The strained relations between Moscow on the one side and Kyiv, EU, ??USA and NATO on the other, put a huge economic and energy security ordeal on our country and further deteriorates our defense capabilities,” the document says.

Indeed, Bulgaria has been under pressure from Moscow to build major energy projects such as the South Stream gas pipeline, the Belene nuclear plant, and the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline. Conversely, the US, and other Western partners, have discouraged Bulgaria from further increasing its energy and economic dependence on Russia. As a result, all these projects are now frozen.

In the context of the Ukraine crisis, several Bulgarian media outlets are openly taking side with Russia. It was reported that during the November 2013 Vilnius summit, Plevneliev told a pre-summit meeting of the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) political family that “90% of the media in Bulgaria work for Russian masters.”

Last April, Plevneliev said Russian reconnaissance and transport planes were frequently flying along his country’s Eastern aerial border. This, he said, caused Bulgaria’s MIG fighter jets to intercept such flights “two or three times a week”. Before the Crimea crisis, such interceptions were extremely rare.

Bulgarian fighter jets are Soviet-made, and can be maintained only by Russia. Plevneliev said he suspected Russia wanted to exhaust the MIGs’ operational life by speeding up their maintenance.

According to Vision 2020, it is necessary for the country to buy new fighters jets, and in case the economy performs better – a new air defense system.

The document also says that civil society has become stronger in recent months, but that “the resistance of the social mechanisms and organisations is still insufficient in the conditions of risks of hybrid nature”.

At least one political organization, the nationalist and xenophobic party Ataka, openly promotes pro-Putin policies. But the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the second force in the country (see background), also often advocates positions close to Moscow’s, in disregard of the EU line.

A recent opinion poll has shown that in case they would be asked what to choose, EU membership for Bulgaria or membership in Russia’s Eurasian Union, 22% of respondents said they said would vote for Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical project. Conversely, 40% say they are for EU membership.

>> Read: 22% of Bulgarians want to join Russia’s ‘Eurasian Union’

On 27 August the caretaker Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki announced that the report “Vision 2020’ had created a “mini crisis” in the country and had consequently been withdrawn. The report has indeed disappeared in the meantime from the Ministry’s website. The announcement came after Ivailo Kalfin, a politician from the centre-left political force “Alternative for a Bulgarian Renaissance” (ABV) accused the Defence minister of unnecessarily poisoning the country’s relations with Moscow and asked for his resignation.

Bulgaria’s socialist-led minority government resigned on 23 July and a caretaker government was appointed by the President Rossen Plevneliev on 6 August. Early elections will be held on 5 October.

If elections are held today, according to a recent poll the winner would be the party GERB (Citizens for a European development of Bulgaria) of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov (EPP-affiliated), with 24.6%, followed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) with 17.8% and the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) with 7.9%. Four more forces are likely to pass the 4% threshold to be represented in Parliament: the Reformist Block (EPP-affiliated), the centre-left Alternative for Bulgarian Renaissance (ABV), the party “Bulgaria without censorship” of MEP Nikolay Barekov who recently obtained affiliation with the conservative ECR group, and the nationalist force “Patriotic Front”.

The nationalist Ataka is unlikely to be represented in the next parliament, according to polls.

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