Bulgaria grapples with rewrite of controversial paper after row over ‘Russia threat’

Written by on September 1, 2014 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgaria grapples with rewrite of controversial paper after row over ‘Russia threat’

The Bulgarian cabinet’s security council was meeting on September 1 to consider a new version of a document on a vision for the future of the country in Nato, after a previous draft was withdrawn when it prompted headlines that Bulgaria sees Russia as a threat to its security.

The “Vision 2020” document is being readied ahead of Nato member Bulgaria’s participation in the September 4 and 5 summit of the military alliance in Wales.

A reference in a previous draft to “new hybrid warfare, combining conventional methods with the techniques of guerrilla, cyber and information warfare” being conducted by Russia caused a domestic political storm.

The draft containing this terminology had been posted on the Bulgarian Defence Ministry’s website but was removed and redrafted on the orders of caretaker Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki, who repudiated the language used.

Bliznashki’s position was seen as in contradiction with that taken by head of state President Rossen Plevneliev, who had welcomed the debate opened by the draft and said that the notes about Russia were in line with repeated public statements of Nato policy by the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Bliznashki has denied that he is in conflict with Plevneliev over the issue, saying on August 30 that the European Union and Nato should harden their positions towards Russia but could not arrive at long-term conclusions on the basis of the crisis situation in Ukraine.

The caretaker Prime Minister said that both he and the President were of the opinion that the draft had been an initial one.

In Bulgarian domestic politics, the issue of Russia is a complex and important one.

On the left-wing and ultra-nationalist front, there is a general positive attitude towards the Kremlin and the behaviour behind closed doors at EU and Nato-level forums by representatives of the now-departed socialist government caused concern in Western capitals.

The centre-right traditionally has taken a harder line in relation to Moscow and there has been complex politics in recent years in relation to Russian-linked energy projects.

Desperate for a headline as October 5 national parliamentary elections approach, minority ultra-nationalists seized on the “Vision 2020” draft to allege that those currently in power were “bent on taking the country into a war with Russia” while socialist parties demanded the resignation of the caretaker Defence Minister, Velizar Shalamanov.

Boiko Borissov, leader of centre-right GERB – the party seen as highly likely to win the largest share of votes in October and possibly propel Borissov into a reprise of his 2009/13 role as head of government – spoke on the “Vision 2020” issue a number of days after the story broke, saying that Russia “posed no threat” to Bulgaria but adding that the country was suffering huge losses at all levels because of the crisis in Ukraine.

Borissov said that he was convinced that any EU member state suffering losses because of sanctions on Russia should be compensated. “If there are sanctions, there must be compensation.”

GERB did not believe that the caretaker government should be adopting a 2020 strategy. The caretaker government’s job was to ensure that the elections would be fair, Borissov said.

The previous day, August 29, caretaker Defence Minister Shalamanov told Nova Televizia that certain actions by the Russian authorities put at serious risk the security of Bulgaria and of Nato.

Shalamanov, speaking of the reference to the “information war” in the now-discarded version of the Vision 2020 document, said “The term ‘information war’ is part of the shared assessments of the North Atlantic Alliance”.

Plevneliev, who with Shalamanov will represent Bulgaria at the Nato Wales Summit, said on August 31 that Bulgaria would be raising its percentage of GDP as funding for the military from 1.33 to 1.5 per cent in 2015 and then, “gradually and according to our possibilities” to two per cent in 2020.

“You have to realize that it is not correct to cut the military budget and expect someone else to come to protect us when the going gets tough and critical. Bulgaria should also contribute to stability and security through its skills and abilities and to invest in them,” he said.

(Archive photo of Rasmussen and Plevneliev: Nato)

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