Trans-Europe Express – EU risks escalating diplomatic crisis with Russia, says Bulgarian PM

Boyko Borissov and Theresa May on 19 October 2017 [Council]

The statement agreed by EU leaders blaming Russia for the Salisbury spy attack only risks further escalating the diplomatic crisis between Europe and Moscow, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has warned.

Borissov, whose country holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, shared his views on Friday morning (23 March), ahead of the second day of talks at the EU Summit.

“We find ourselves in times worse than the Cold War. During the Cold War, there were rules. Now I’m not optimistic for the peaceful future of the world,” Borissov said.

UK's May wins EU backing for holding Russia responsible for Salisbury attack

EU leaders backed Britain in the night of 22 to 23 March in blaming Moscow over a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England, raising the possibility of additional retaliatory steps by European countries.

He said that the “mass expulsion of diplomats” and the recall of the EU’s own ambassador from Moscow for consultations, would “hardly bring more peace, more calm and more understanding”.

“We based ourselves on the statements by UK Prime Minister Theresa May that it was “highly likely” that the Russian Federation stands behind this attack”.

“I expressed my views and asked for more information. ‘Highly likely’ is not ‘certainly,” he said and added he expected a “rapid escalation” in the next days and weeks.

“Many countries will start recalling their ambassadors,” he said but added that Bulgaria had no intention of being among them.

Borissov told reporters on Thursday he was not sure Moscow was indeed behind the Salisbury attack and said he would share his view with the other EU leaders.

Asked by EURACTIV why his argumentation did not prevail at the summit, he said:

“This is because we all trust the position of the UK. I told Theresa May my position. I reminded her that there was a time when Saddam Hussein was accused of having a chemical arsenal. Tony Blair later had to apologise but the consequences remain monstrous to this day. Maybe I’m one of the oldest, and I’m trying to think more in these terms. But there is a common position and we support it”, Borissov said.

On a lighter note, Borissov hinted that the Bulgarian port city of Varna, which will host a ‘leaders’ meeting’ with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan next week, could become a permanent “channel of communication” between Brussels and Ankara.

The previous night, EU leaders approved the holding of the summit, which had been conditional since the February EU summit because of reservations from Cyprus.

EU-Turkey Varna summit becomes conditional

Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades succeded on Friday (23 February) in convincing his colleagues at the EU summit to make a planned “leaders’ meeting” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Varna conditional on stopping “illegal violations” in the Cypriot economic zone.

 

The Bulgarian PM said that this was likely to be “a very difficult meeting”. He added that the purpose of this channel was “to confirm the second tranche, so those three-and-a-half million migrants would stay in Turkey, and to guarantee [the security of] our external border”.

Turkey has been promised €6 billion under the EU-Turkey statement of 18 March 2016, with the second tranche €3 billion to be disbursed only if the initial 3 billion payment is not enough.

On 14 March, the Commission approved the disbursement of the second tranche.

Athens is currently seeking support for the release of its two soldiers, who inadvertently crossed the border due to bad weather and were arrested in Turkey.

Said Borissov:

“But I can anticipate the (Turkish) answer: what about our soldiers?”

He referred to the eight Turkish soldiers who sought political asylum in Greece after the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Turkey asked Greece to extradite them, accusing them of having been involved in the coup attempt. Greece has refused to hand them over.

Greek court says Turkish soldiers should not be extradited

The Greek Supreme Court ruled today (26 January) that eight soldiers who fled to Greece after a failed coup attempt in Turkey should not be extradited to Ankara.

The Inside Track

By Alexandra Brzozowski

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