US assistant secretary of state Nuland visiting Bulgaria amid mixed signals in Sofia on Russia
United States secretary of state Victoria Nuland is due in Sofia on March 31 to meet senior Bulgarian government officials on the eve of a Nato ministerial meeting at which the Russia-Ukraine situation is expected to dominate discussions.
There have been mixed signals in top political circles in Bulgaria on the Crimea crisis and the issue of sanctions against Russia.
While three out of four of the parties represented in Parliament agreed on a Consultative Council on National Security statement condemning Russian intervention in Ukraine and the current cabinet has said that it would not veto economic sanctions against Russia over Crimea, the Bulgarian Socialist Party – the party that holds the mandate on the basis of which the government was formed – has taken a firm stand against sanctions against Russia.
On March 26, the BSP called on the government to oppose economic sanctions against Russia, giving as the party’s reason the effect that these would have on Bulgaria’s economy.
“We should not only hold aloof regarding possible sanctions against Russia, but should be firmly against such sanctions,” the BSP said, while also echoing the Kremlin line against “nationalist party and pro-fascist groups in Ukraine”.
A day later, Kristian Vigenin, foreign minister in the BSP government, was reported to have told a regular gather of honorary consuls in Sofia, “while staying on the Euro-Atlantic track and not compromising its strategic orientation, Bulgaria also has an interest in maintaining mutually beneficial relations with Russia”.
Already, senior EU diplomats have viewed with concern some of the signals from senior government officials from Bulgaria.
The BSP not only has a background of cordial ties with Moscow, dating back from the party’s communist-era antecedents, but also uses the very dependence on Russian energy projects that it has a record of supporting as an argument against alienating Russia.
According to a state department statement ahead of Nuland’s visit to Sofia, she would discuss with senior Bulgarian government officials, “our shared commitment to TransAtlantic values as members of Nato, the development of our economic partnership, and Bulgaria’s energy diversification efforts”.
On April 1, she will join US secretary of state John Kerry in Brussels at the Nato foreign ministerial meeting.
In Chisinau, Nuland was at the centre of an announcement signalling US reassurances of support for the line that Moldova has taken in its current government’s pro-EU orientation – and the situation in which the country finds itself amid speculation about the future of Moldova’s Transdniester region, the latter frequently identified as possibly next up on Moscow’s menu.
Nuland announced a further $10 million in US assistance for Moldova’s border security.
She held talks with Moldovan president Nicolae Timofti, prime minister Iurie Leanca and foreign minister Natalia Gherman.
Nuland reiterated US support for Moldova’s independence, territorial integrity and path toward European integration, Washington’s embassy in Chisinau said.
Recently, some groups in Transdniester, an area locked in a frozen conflict over whether its future is with Russia or Moldova, called on Moscow to legislate to open the way for its accession to Russia, as had happened in Crimea.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has been quoted as saying that Moscow’s position is that Ukraine and Moldova are effectively “blocking” Transdniester.
After, unlike Ukraine whether Victor Yanukovych turned the country from its path toward the EU in late 2013 – a move that would lead to his downfall – Moldova stayed on track, significant steps have been made in easing the EU visa system for Moldovans.
Nuland said in Chisinau that the US looked forward to “all Moldovans – including those in (Transdniester) and (Gaguazia) benefitting from visa-free travel to Europe,” Radio Free Europe reported.
On March 27, Leanca was quoted as having told Reuters in an interview of his concerns about a “series of provocations” from Transdniester.
“Of course we are concerned because of the proximity [of the Ukrainian crisis] to our borders. We are concerned because we have a similar problem of an unrecognized Republic [of Transdniester] and we’ve had it for 23 years,” Leanca was quoted as saying.
(Photo: US embassy Chisinau)