Bulgaria, once best friend, faces Russia


SHIPKA, BULGARIA — A week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Moscow ambassador to Bulgaria died here in memory of a Tsar-era Russian soldier who climbed a snow-capped mountain pass for Bulgaria’s independence in the 19th century.

But today’s concerns quickly dissipated. Ambassador Efforts to Remind Bulgaria of Bulgaria’s Debt to Russia. On the same day, Bulgaria announced that it had expelled two diplomats on charges of espionage and had arrested a senior military officer on charges of espionage in Russia.

In the weeks that followed, Moscow, long considered Europe’s most ardent and trusted friend, joined Bulgaria with fellow members of the European Union. Stronger economic sanctions against RussiaIt offered to repair broken military helicopters and tanks for Ukraine and expelled more Russian diplomats.

“Traditionally, Russia has always had a lot of influence here, but we’ve given them a big surprise,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said in an interview in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, last week. “They don’t understand what happened,” he added.

The sharp deterioration in relations with Bulgaria, a symbolically important country due to its poor but historically close ties to Russia, shows just how far the invasion of Ukraine, ordered by President Vladimir V. Putin, has turned not only on the battlefield but also on the battlefield.

Furious at the arrogance of a volatile friend, Russia abruptly stopped Gazprom’s supply of natural gas to Bulgaria last month, making it, along with Poland, a Balkan ally targeted by Moscow’s energy weapons.

At the same time, Moscow launched a cyberattack that attacked the servers of a Bulgarian state-owned energy company and disrupted pension payments through the postal service, Petkov said. “Right now, we are under serious attack,” he said, explaining that it was an obvious “attempt to derail our government” by fostering domestic unrest.

“They’re trying to set an example for us,” Petkov said. Russia explained Russia’s energy pressure, explaining that it was intended to create a situation where “energy prices skyrocket and our government collapses.”

Whether Petrkov’s already fragile coalition government, formed after unconclusive elections in November, can now survive remains to be seen, with the help of the European Union (EU), which Bulgaria joined in 2007, and the United States, tying alternative energy sources together. It largely depends on your abilities. . Petkov visited Washington this week, where Vice President Kamala Harris promised “American solidarity against recent Russian attempts to use energy as a weapon.”

Bulgaria’s Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev has argued that Bulgaria is already well on its way to securing an alternative gas supply by transporting it north of Bulgaria via pipeline from Azerbaijan and via liquefied natural gas to a nearby Greek terminal. .

“It’s clear to us that Gazprom is now a thing of the past,” Vassilev said in an interview. He added that Moscow used its hands excessively, promptly urging the normally hostile Balkans into joint action to face the risk of a sudden supply cut by Russia.

“This gives a lot of hope that gas weapons will backfire as well as paper tigers,” he said.

What is already clear from the rift between Bulgaria and Russia is that Russia’s shaky progress on the Ukrainian battlefield has often been accompanied by self-inflicted setbacks on the diplomatic front.

Moscow has stalled China and has garnered support in parts of Africa and Latin America, but has shown an incredible ability to marginalize people and lose friends elsewhere.

For example, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov recently angered many in Israel, most of whom were sitting on the fringes of the Ukraine war, by claiming that Jews were “the greatest anti-Semitic” and that Hitler was right. Jewish origins. President Putin apologized to Israel for the remarks.

Russian ambassador to Sofia Eleonora Mitrofanova scored an own goal for describing Bulgaria as America’s “bed toilet”.

Bulgaria’s prime minister, Petrkov, said he called the ambassador to protest her remarks and received an apology.

He added that he was still dissatisfied with the Moscow envoy “behaving like a propaganda machine and not a diplomat.”

Bulgaria summoned its ambassador to Moscow in March for Mitropanova’s “non-diplomatic, sharp and rude” remarks. This will allow the Russian ambassador to stay in Sofia, but her diplomats will soon be ordered home.

“Now is the time to take a strong stand against Russian spies and agents,” Petkov said. “Now it’s time to clean up.”

Poland had never been the friend of Moscow like Bulgaria, but was embarrassed by Russia’s ignoring public sentiment. The Russian embassy in Warsaw, a city full of Ukrainian flags and offensive billboards aimed at President Putin, last week urged residents of the Polish capital to join Russian diplomats in a “Victory Day” event that celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. A Russian holiday that President Putin turned into a festival of nationalist bombing.

On Saturday, the embassy canceled plans for a joint public event with the Poles after public protests by many in Poland what they saw as a crude effort to seize the memories of World War II. In a statement, the embassy expressed regret for Poland’s ingratitude toward Moscow in defeating the Nazis. When the Russian ambassador appeared at the Soviet War Memorial in Warsaw on Monday, Ukrainian activists poured red liquid on him.

Moscow Embassy in Sofia It tried to accept Russia’s former military glory in exchange for a brutal onslaught on Ukraine, but failed equally. Ambassador Mitropanova has previously angered even pro-Russian Bulgarians by arguing that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was no different from the Tsar-era military intervention in the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans that helped Bulgaria become an independent state.

In a speech in March, the Russian ambassador mentioned two regions in eastern Ukraine: “Russia once liberated Bulgaria, but now is the time for Russia to liberate Donetsk and Lugansk.”

Sophia University historian Daniela Koleva said that the comparison “created a wave of outrage” by presenting a one-sided view of history. Poor propaganda service.

Mr. Koleva said many Bulgarians acknowledged that their country had benefited from Russian help in the 19th century, but still feel grateful. But she also added that Russia has bitter, more recent memories of the Russian attack on the Black Sea coast during World War I and the Soviet occupation after World War II.

“There are a lot of myths about Russia,” she added. “The communist rule imposed by the Soviet Union for more than 40 years has systematically erased everything that could cast a shadow on Russia or on the Soviet Union.”

Opinion polls show that sympathy for Russia is still stronger in Bulgaria than in other parts of Europe. But a survey commissioned by Bulgarian state television in March found that while more than 60% support stronger sanctions against Moscow, Putin’s approval rating has more than halved to around 25% since he invaded Ukraine.

“This war nailed the coffin of our fascination with Russia,” said Ruslan Stefanov, program director for the Center for the Study of Democracy, Sofia’s research institute. “They have been very successful in turning people out of Russia completely.”

When the government submitted a resolution authorizing “military and technical assistance” to Ukraine last week, even the Socialist Party, a long-time supporter of Russia, voted in favor. The only party to vote against was Revival, a nationalist group that has regularly protested in support of a Russian invasion.

Revival leader Kostadine Kostadinov argued in an interview that most Bulgarians supported Russia but were ignored by the government, which accused Russia of making Russia a “colony completely subordinated to the United States.”

He said he understands that the cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria is “not a friendly act” by Russia, but because it “started a war with Russia” by imposing sanctions and expelling diplomats.

Until Gazprom abruptly shut off Bulgaria in late April, Bulgaria relied on Russia for about 90% of its natural gas consumption.

But, according to Prime Minister Petkov, Russia has been seriously misguided by using Bulgaria as a test of its ability to change government policies in support of Ukraine and inflicting economic damage.

“If the EU’s lowest per capita GDP and the most dependent country on Russia can afford it, everyone should be able to fight Putin,” he said.

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