The Brief, powered by Facebook – Spy hard

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/MAXIM SHIPENKOV]

Hallelujah. A recent spy scandal in Bulgaria has reminded us that there other things besides COVID vaccines that are geopolitically important…

Whenever a spy scandal becomes public, there is a good reason. And it’s always useful to analyse it because chances to take a glimpse at the world of espionage do not come along very often.

Why did Bulgaria make the scandal public? It is usually wiser to keep the dirty laundry hidden. It’s not great to tell the whole world that several Bulgarian officials were so eager to work for Vladimir Putin’s Russia that they did it for peanuts. It hardly helps Bulgaria’s image as a reliable NATO partner.

But Bulgaria’s motivation for going public outweighed this risk. The government of Boyko Borissov, and his handpicked chief prosecutor, needs to portray itself as pro-Western, at a time when speculation is growing about whether his leadership is, in fact, pro-Russian.

For one thing, the pipeline project on which Bulgaria spent a fortune, plays right into the hands of Putin, and nobody else. With the Trump administration, this did not matter. Now it’s different.

In addition, a nice little spy scandal is perfect when the Biden administration has just made it clear that it is taking the Cold War approach vis-à-vis Russia, as we explained last week. It’s also helpful in an atmosphere of growing tensions and perceived geopolitical threats precisely in the area where Bulgaria is situated.

Broadly speaking, this area is the Black Sea. This is where Crimea is situated, where the Azov Sea is creating additional tensions, where Ukraine and Russia could clash, intentionally or unintentionally.

This is also an area of growing interest for the United States, in the framework of NATO, but also of the Three Seas initiative, a US-favoured project whose presidency Bulgaria is about to take over.

From the Western perspective, Russia should be pressured so that it comes to regret having annexed Crimea and be discouraged from further expanding its control of Ukrainian territory, be it via proxy paramilitary forces or directly.

Russia thinks the Biden administration will encourage Kyiv to launch operations to recover lost territories in Donbas, which calls for a full-fledged non-nuclear war (Russia would not use tactical nukes on territories it considers its own).

In this context, spying on a NATO ally such as Bulgaria is extremely precious for the Kremlin, although we highly doubt that Washington would share strategic information and sensitive plans with Sofia.

Bulgaria is also important in the context of Turkey becoming increasingly unreliable as a NATO partner.

The obvious forecast is the growing militarisation of the Black Sea. The difficult forecast is whether there will be war, the risks being much bigger since Joe Biden took office.

Is anyone shocked that we use the keyword ‘war’? If so, just remember the Georgia war in 2008, the hybrid wars on Ukrainian territory since 2014, and the Karabakh war in 2020. Wars happen – even if the best spies are unable to predict them.


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The Roundup

Turkey will be invited to follow a path of dialogue and reap some economic benefits, or move further away from Europe and face consequences, the EU’s chief diplomat wrote in his Turkey report, set to be discussed by EU leaders later this week, according to a draft report seen by EURACTIV.

With their draft election programme, Germany’s Green party want to finally say goodbye to their image as an opposition party. Climate protection and expensive investments are central, but their ideas for tax and financial policy could become contentious.

Germany is considering ways to fund an increased ambition in animal welfare standards, including a new levy on animal welfare, but the idea has raised eyebrows among German farmers, who are concerned they will be exposed to unfair competition. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Universities should promote interdisciplinary thinking, engagement in public debates and applied research to support meaning policymaking, experts and lawmakers told a recent EURACTIV event.

Six EU countries are asking the bloc’s foreign ministers to focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina and help the barely functioning Western Balkan country implement key reforms that should boost its dwindling EU membership bid and ease simmering tensions in the region.

Look out for…

  • Agriculture and Fisheries Council
  • Informal meeting of European affairs ministers

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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