Opposition and minority parties in Bulgaria are seeking to pressure the country’s centre-right coalition cabinet over Ukraine, highlighting the plight of ethnic Bulgarians in that country and calling for a reversal on Bulgaria’s support for Nato and for sanctions against Russia.
One political coalition, the nationalist Patriotic Front – currently a backer of the governing majority in the National Assembly – has called on head of state President Rossen Plevneliev to convene the Consultative Council on National Security to discuss issues related to Ukraine, including the Bulgarian ethnic minority.
The minority parties, in particular those that have a pro-Moscow track record, are seizing on issues including the recent agreement by Nato defence ministers to set up command-and-control centres in six Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria.
A flurry of chatter among conspiracy theorists that the United States, the West and Nato are covertly drawing Bulgaria into a supposed future “war on Russia” have led to repeated denials by senior members of the government.
Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has spelt out in Parliament that he does not want Bulgaria drawn into the conflict in Ukraine. The foreign and defence ministers have said in the plainest way possible that Bulgaria has no aggressive intentions. But such direct statements have done nothing to stop posturing by various minority parties.
On February 10, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) – formerly in government and now a distant second in the number of seats in the National Assembly, making it by default the largest opposition party – issued a formal declaration against the stationing of foreign armed forces in Bulgaria and also called for Bulgaria to back the suspension of sanctions against Russia.
The BSP said that “Europe can and must build its security together with Russia and not against it”.
The party, lineal successor to the communist party that was in power when Bulgaria was a loyal Soviet satellite, said that current sanctions against Russia were “obviously” not an effective way to settling the conflict in Ukraine but rather were harming European countries, including Bulgaria.
The BSP added that it was following “with extreme concern” reports of mobilisation of ethnic Bulgarians in Ukraine, which was dragging them into a fratricidal conflict.
Also on February 10, Georgi Purvanov, leader of minority socialist breakaway party ABC – one of the two smallest parties in Parliament but which has a share in government through a deal with Borissov’s GERB party – said that ABC would issue a declaration of its own calling for Bulgaria not to be involved in the Ukraine conflict.
Bulgaria should not allow its territory to be used for military strikes in this direction, Purvanov said in an interview with the public broadcaster.
On February 6, the Patriotic Front, which has no seats in the cabinet but which backs the parliamentary majority, called on President Plevneliev to convene the Consultative Council on National Security because of the complicated situation in regions close to the territory of Bulgaria.
Patriotic Front co-leaders Valeri Simeonov and Krassimir Karakachanov said that there was a need to take account of the events in Ukraine and threats to the national security of Bulgaria, the complicated situation in the Middle East and the expected new wave of illegal immigrants, as well as the state of the Bulgaria military and its readiness to react to current threats to national security.
They said that it was imperative that the council – which brings together key members of the government, armed forces and representatives of all parties with parliamentary groups – should identify specific steps to respond, “to guarantee to Bulgarian society that state institutions are ready and in synchrony with each other to protect the Bulgarian national interests”.
Calling a meeting of the council would be a means to put an end to speculation that Nato was forcing Bulgaria into a war with Russia.
Local media reported that the President’s press secretariat had responded that Plevneliev would convene the council some time in the next month and a half and he was awaiting an appropriate occasion to do so.
The President’s office indicated that it was customary for the head of state to convene a meeting of the council in the first quarter of the year, so the next meeting should be expected no later than the end of March. The message was that the situation was not seen as requiring an urgent meeting of the council.
Minority far-right ultra-nationalist party Ataka has been particularly strident on the topic of Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia.
Ataka leader Volen Siderov has called for Bulgaria to “declare neutrality” and say that it would not take part in any action against Russia. His party also would seek support in Parliament for a referendum on Bulgaria withdrawing from Nato.
According to Ataka, Bulgaria should say a resounding “no” to foreign bases in Bulgaria and any military action against Russia. According to Siderov, “we are currently in a pre-war situation and this is the fault of the current government, which is driving us to the battlefield”.
Some days ago, Siderov also claimed there was a “secret mobilisation” of Bulgaria’s armed forces underway, an allegation rejected by Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev, who told Parliament that all that was happening was a routine paper check of reserve personnel, a procedure carried out at regular intervals.
In a statement on February 10, the Bulgarian government said that it was following very closely the information about tension among the representatives of minorities in Ukraine, including the Bulgarian national minority, in connection with the rising number of mobilised individuals in the frames of the fourth wave of mobilisation in the country.
“We are in constant touch with the Bulgarian diplomatic offices in Ukraine – the embassy in Kyiv and the Consulate General in Odessa as well as with the Ukrainian authorities so that continuing issues are clarified,” the government media statement said.
The Bulgarian government said that it assumed that the authorities in Ukraine would allow the principle of proportionality in determining the number of individuals liable to mobilisation in the places with a significant Bulgarian population and would undertake the measures required to prevent tension in regions where a Bulgarian or other minorities live.
The government said that Bulgaria’s position had been presented clearly to the Ukrainian ambassador in Sofia, and the matter also would be raised during a forthcoming visit by Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin to Bulgaria.
The statement said that the situation in Eastern Ukraine remains extremely tense and unstable with clashes between the government forces and separatists continuing at various places. The humanitarian situation is complicated, especially in the Donbass region, where military actions are underway.
It said that Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry was preparing a decision to provide humanitarian aid to the ethnic Bulgarians in Ukraine, the form and manner of delivery of which are still being clarified.
The government said that the Foreign Ministry already had sent instructions to the Bulgarian embassy in Kyiv and the Consulate General in Odessa to ease the issuance of visas to Bulgarians in the region where there was military activity.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov accused the parties that oppose the deployment of a Nato command centre in Bulgaria, of “behaviour bordering on criminality” and of “irresponsible instilling of hostility”, Bulgarian National Radio said on February 10.
“Bulgaria is to enter into war with nobody,” Mitov told reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Mitov rejected criticism that the Bulgarian government is not doing enough for the ethnic Bulgarians in the Ukraine, some of whom live in parts engaged in the conflict.
“It is political outrage to use the distress of the people in those regions for political purposes. We have our engagements and for quite some time, too,” he said.
Defence Minister Nenchev said on February 10 that Bulgaria’s policy was peaceful and “we have not discussed issues related to aggression against a foreign country”.
Nenchev told reporters, “I want to say to all of you that never in any form have we discussed issues related to aggression against a foreign country, I declare this to the President, to all Bulgarian generals, admirals and officers. Our policy will continue to be consistent, principled and clear in this regard”.
In a reference to defence strategy planning, he said that all forthcoming measures had been “planned for months, sometimes for years, and you can find all of them on the Nato website”.
Nenchev added, “in spite of all the aggression poured out against the Ministry of Defence, including by MPs and entire parliamentary groups, we will be ready to talk to them on every issue”.
President Plevneliev also spoke out on the issues at a news conference on February 10.
“Work on this command centre started under the government of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which was backed by Ataka. It was continued by the interim government and will be completed in a respectable way by the current cabinet,” Plevneliev said, according to a report by local news agency Focus.
“Let those seeing missile complexes, bases, mobilisation to the aim of waging war, use of the facility in Shabla to attack the East, be honest with the Bulgarian people and say on the basis of which documents, decisions and fact they are lying and manipulating the Bulgarian society in this impertinent way,” Plevneliev said, urging them to apologise.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)