Plamen Oresharski, occupant of the prime minister’s chair in the Bulgarian Socialist Party government, has told the National Assembly that he expressed to US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland the hope that the point would not be reached of a further round of sanctions against Russia.
Oresharski was replying on April 2 to questions from far-right ultra-nationalist Ataka party leader Volen Siderov, whose party wants Parliament to approve a resolution against sanctions on Russia.
Siderov said on April 1 that unless the government supported his position, his party would bring it down.
Ataka is the smallest of the four parties in Parliament and in the first months after the election of the 42nd National Assembly, the parties of the ruling axis – the BSP and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – were dependent on it for quorums and, in some cases, for winning votes.
Siderov, who on March 31 led a small group of his MPs in protesting against the visit by Nuland, holding up posters (mainly in the Bulgarian language) reflecting a pro-Kremlin and anti-US stance, asked Oresharski about the purpose of Nuland’s trip.
“What exactly does Victoria Nuland want from Bulgaria, what was this urgent, secret and very strange trip about, what does she want from us?” Siderov said.
Oresharski said that he had briefed Nuland on the Bulgarian government’s position on the issue of Ukraine, Russia and sanctions imposed by the EU because of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
“We are ‘for’ a diplomatic solution to the crisis and we hope that there will not be a further escalation of tensions, and hopefully not the implementation of a third package of sanctions by the European Council.”
He said that he had used the opportunity of the meeting to outline predictions of the negative impact that sanctions against Russia would have on the Bulgarian economy.
Oresharski said that the government had a “balanced position” on the crisis in relations between Ukraine and the EU and Russia and the government would continue to pursue such a policy, while hoping against a new round of sanctions.
Observers and senior Western diplomats have been following carefully the messages coming from ruling circles in Sofia in recent weeks amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The government has said that it would not veto further sanctions against Russia but the BSP, which holds the mandate to govern, has called on that same government to oppose such sanctions.
On April 2, Boiko Borissov, leader of the National Assembly’s largest party, centre-right opposition GERB, outlined in an interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio his party’s position on the sanctions issue.
Borissov, who the same day was due to meet Russian ambassador to Bulgaria Yuriy Isakov, said that from the outset he had opposed “half penalties” in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which his party rejected as illegal.
“What sanctions are these?” Borissov said, referring to the steps voted last week by EU leaders.
He said that they applied to some firms, but not to the big petrol, gas and nuclear energy companies.
“These small sanctions, or soft sanctions as they are called, will hit the economy and tourism industry of Bulgaria, as our trade with Ukraine and with Russia is the largest. In this situation, I see no point in supporting half-penalties.”
The government would have his party’s support if it recommended not imposing sanctions on Russia, Borissov said.
Soft sanctions would hit the economy and tourism of Bulgaria and there was no point in them if they did not apply to the big companies, he said.
(Photo of Nuland and Oresharski at their March 31 meeting: government.bg)