The mayor of Topolovgrad in south-eastern Bulgaria is joining volunteers heading to Ukraine ahead of the March 16 Crimea referendum “to protect the rights of the Bulgarian community” there and ensure the proper conduct of the referendum, local media said.
The volunteer initiative involves people with Bulgarian ultra-nationalist and Russophile political backgrounds and is largely at odds with Bulgarian government policy, given that Sofia has joined most of the rest of the world in rejecting the planned referendum in Crimea as unlawful and illegitimate.
Topolovgrad mayor Bozhin Bozhninov and the deputy head of the town’s municipal council, Krassimir Ivanov, are going to Crimea as “volunteers” on March 15 and plan to stay for 10 days but could extend their stay if necessary, Bozhinov said.
He said that he was paying for his travel and stay in Crimea out of his own pocket.
The Crimea expedition’s organisers include Pavel Chernev, formerly an MP for Bulgaria’s far-right ultra-nationalist Ataka party, and Simeon Kostadinov of the recently-founded Nationalist Party of Bulgaria.
Kostadinov said that the group’s “official mission” was at the invitation of the “autonomous government of the Crimean republic” to be international observers of the referendum.
He said that the volunteers’ “second mission” was to form “some form of Bulgarian battalion” if what he called the bandit gang in Kyiv “decides to move from words to action and to actually start suppression of minorities”.
Speaking to Nova Televizia, Kostadinov and Chernev said that they were “in dialogue” with representatives of the Bulgarian minority in Ukraine.
They said that there were preparations for the departure of a further group of Bulgarian volunteers at the end of March.
The departure to Crimea of the group of volunteers comes against the background of the current Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) government’s foreign policy approach to Ukraine, which while recently rejecting the Crimea referendum as unlawful and publicly expressing misgivings about Russian intervention on Ukrainian territory, also has sent signals of discomfort about possible economic sanctions against Russia.
On March 12, the BSP’s economy and foreign ministers met the parliamentary portfolio committees to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
Dragomir Stoinev, the economy minister, told MPs that Bulgaria would certainly be among the countries to suffer the worst consequences of economic sanctions by the EU against Russia.
Kristian Vigenin, the former MEP who currently is foreign minister in the BSP cabinet, was quoted by local media as saying that Bulgaria was not demanding the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia because such a step would harm Bulgaria itself.
Bulgaria could seek compensation from the EU if the bloc imposed economic sanctions on Russia because of the situation in Ukraine.
The Russian government’s reaction to possible economic sanctions was “not clear” and this worried Bulgaria to some extent, Vigenin said.
He repeated earlier statements that he believed that a diplomatic solution to the Russia-Ukraine problem was still possible.
After the change of government of Ukraine, Bulgaria’s foreign ministry spoke out against a decision by parliament in Kyiv to abolish a law conceding regional language status to minority languages provided that these languages were used by a certain percentage of the population. The objections by Bulgaria and some other Central and Eastern European countries led to a backtrack by the new authorities in Kyiv.
Vigenin, in a move that caused ructions in Bulgarian domestic politics, earlier travelled to Kyiv, meeting top members of the Ukrainian government as well as meeting members of the Bulgarian-language minority in the country.
(Crimea’s parliament building in Simferopol. Photo: TheFlyingDutchman/Wikimedia Commons)