The Russian ambassador in Sofia, Anatoliy Makarov, has written to centre-right GERB party leader Boiko Borissov congratulating him on his party’s victory in Bulgaria’s March 26 parliamentary elections.
GERB announced the letter on March 30, posting a photo of it on its website.
Makarov told Borissov that he counts on a continugation of “constructive dialogue and mutually beneficial co-operation for the further development of the good relations between Bulgaria and Russia”.
“Please accept, Mr. Borissov, the assurances of my highest esteem for you,” Makarov’s letter said.
In the March 26 2017 parliamentary elections, the party of Borissov – who twice has been Bulgaria’s prime minister – defeated Kornelia Ninova’s Bulgarian Socialist Party, which had included among its key pledges that at the European Council, it would “veto” EU sanctions against Russia.
Russia was hardly an election issue in a campaign that was dominated by talk of alleged Turkish interference in Bulgaria’s domestic affairs, in particular through Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST party.
Relations between Bulgaria and Russia are continually complex.
Some media in Russia and in the West interpreted the victory of Roumen Radev, who was backed by the BSP, in Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential elections as a “move towards Russia”.
Propaganda in the Kremlin’s media hailed the election of Radev as a chance to “revitalise” relations between Moscow and Sofia. Radev, who was commander of the Bulgarian Air Force before entering politics for his successful bid to become head of state, has said that he is a “Nato general” while favouring more “balanced” relations with Russia.
Putin’s Russia has not been happy with much of the actions of previous Borissov administrations, including blaming Bulgaria for the termination of the South Stream gas pipeline project.
Russia also was annoyed by the move during the second Borissov government to hand the business of overhauling the Bulgarian Air Force’s ageing Soviet-made MiG-29 fighters’ engines to Poland instead of extending a contract with Russia.
Nikolai Nenchev, who was defence minister in the second Borissov cabinet, now faces criminal charges in relation to the handling of the MiG engine maintenance contracts. Nenchev, who denies wrongdoing, was a Reformist Bloc candidate in the March 26 elections but was not re-elected to the National Assembly. In his trial, among those scheduled to give evidence is Radev, in his capacity as the former air force chief.
Radev, meanwhile, has indicated that it is possible that Russian president Vladimir Putin will visit Bulgaria in March 2018 (at a time when Bulgaria would be holding the rotating presidency of the EU, of which it has been a member since January 2007).
Putin visited Bulgaria in March 2003, during his first term as Russia’s president, when he was hosted by then-president and former BSP leader Georgi Purvanov. In January 2008, during his second term as president, Putin was again hosted in Sofia by Purvanov. In November 2010, Putin, during his second term as Russia’s prime minister, was hosted by counterpart head of government Borissov, who gave him a puppy.
During the 2012 to 2017 presidency of Rossen Plevneliev, Putin was not hosted in Sofia. Plevneliev was a severe critic of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and of the “great powers” approach to geopolitical decisions in the region.
In July 2016, Borissov said that he wanted to “normalise” relations with Russia and had instructed the then-foreign minister, Daniel Mitov, to act on this.
In December 2016, Borissov – who had resigned as prime minister a few weeks earlier because of Radev’s victory, but was still in office as head of government – held talks with Russian ambassador Makarov.
According to a government statement at the time, Borissov and Makarov discussed the current political situation and issues of the international agenda.
They shared the view that the Middle East crisis can be solved only through peaceful negotiations, the government statement said. “War is not a solution. We need common statist solutions to the migrant wave to Europe and resolving conflicts around us,” Borissov was quoted as saying.
Borissov and Makarov also “expressed their willingness to continue and strengthen dialogue and cooperation between Bulgaria and the Russian Federation in the energy sector,” the statement said.
(Archive photo of the Borissov-Makarov meeting at the Cabinet office in December 2016: government.bg)