Bulgaria’s Consultative Council on National Security said on March 24 that it supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity and that Bulgaria did not recognise the referendum held in Crimea on March 16 because it was held in breach of international law and the Ukrainian constitution.
The council, which includes senior cabinet members, security and intelligence chiefs as well as leaders of the parties represented in Parliament, was called on March 14 by President Rossen Plevneliev to discuss the risks posed to Bulgaria by the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
Speaking after the four-hour meeting of the council, Plevneliev said that the participants in the council supported both the signing of the political part of EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine last week and the signing of the economic part after Ukraine holds “free and democratic presidential elections.”
At the same time, the council called on Ukrainian authorities to uphold the rights and freedoms of all ethnic and religious minorities, including the 300 000-strong Bulgarian community in Ukraine.
The crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations once again put to the test and economic and energy security of Bulgaria, a statement on the council’s conclusions said.
The council believed that that the diversification of gas supply, acceleration of the construction of interconnectors with neighbouring countries and the development of gas fields in the Black Sea shelf as soon as possible were national priorities to which there were no alternatives.
The council recommended that the cabinet’s national security council (a body different from the Consultative Council on National Security) and the national headquarters monitoring the situation in Ukraine should monitor and analyse the processes generating risks to the security of Bulgaria and promptly take the “necessary counter-measures”.
The government should take action to prevent disruption of energy supply, speed up work on the building of interconnectors and provide the reserves necessary to enable Bulgaria to overcome a possible energy crisis.
Bulgaria’s institutions should keep in constant touch with Bulgarian communities in Ukraine and provide any assistance necessary, the council statement said.
Fourth, as it had supported the efforts so far of the Bulgarian government, the Consultative Council on Natioal Security recommended that the cabinet, in subsequent discussions in the EU, put forward the Bulgarian position taking into account all the risks to Bulgaria, including economic risks arising from the development of the crisis.
Apart from discussing the risks to Bulgaria from the Ukraine crisis, the March 24 meeting of the council also had been the focus of hopes in some quarters in politics of achieving a cross-party consensus position on the situation in Ukraine.
Speaking after the meeting, Plamen Oresharski – occupant of the prime minister’s chair in the current Bulgarian Socialist Party government – said that he remained certain that there would be no large-scale sanctions against Russia.
He said that Bulgaria would continue to take part in debates at EU level to shape the European position as it had before.
Bulgaria has been among EU countries to oppose serious economic sanctions against Russia. Oresharski has been especially vigorous at EU-level discussions in opposing such sanctions, a position not viewed with favour by influential EU countries that would prefer to see a strong response to Russia’s violations of international law.
Within Bulgaria, critical views of the approach taken by the current BSP government see is as intended to offend neither the EU nor Russia.
As to the issue of cross-party consensus on Ukraine, attempts in Parliament to get a resolution approved were put on hold because of the incompatibility of three draft resolutions drafted by three parties.
While Parliament’s three largest parties – centre-right GERB, the BSP and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – appeared to have signed on to the statement made public officially after the Consultative Council for National Security meeting, there was ostentatious dissent from far-right ultra-nationalist party Ataka.
Led by Volen Siderov, who walked out of the council meeting in protest against its draft conclusions, Ataka held a rally nearby the Presidency building where the meeting was taking place.
Siderov told the pro-Russian gathering that he rejected a paragraph saying that the government would be able to apply the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation.
He said that denying the legitimacy of the Crimea referendum and the right of the people of Crimea to “self-determination”, applying sanctions was not acceptable.
Siderov said that he had asked Speaker of Parliament Mihail Mikov, who was present at the council meeting, what would happen about the planned May visit to Bulgaria by the president of the State Duma, Sergey Naryshkin.
“If the ban (on him) is observed, it will lead to breaking off diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Russia,” Siderov said, adding that these were “extremely stupid actions” that would set Bulgaria and Russia at odds.
However, for all Siderov’s bluster and his walkout, the official standpoint released by the council made no direct reference to the issue of sanctions, raising the probability that any such reference – of the type claimed by Siderov to have been in the draft – was omitted for the sake of a consensus among the three larger parties.