Russian president Vladimir Putin has been invited to visit Bulgaria in 2018, when the country celebrates 140 years of liberation from Ottoman rule, former caretaker minister for the EU presidency and opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party deputy leader Denitsa Zlateva said on May 29.
The Russo-Turkish war of 1877/78 was instrumental in the process of Bulgaria emerging from under Turkish rule.
Zlateva, who was Bulgaria’s minister for the country’s forthcoming EU presidency in the first half of 2018 in the Ognyan Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet that was in office from late January until early May.
She was invited to retain the post when Boiko Borissov took office at the head of his third government, a coalition between his centre-right GERB party and the nationalist United Patriots, bu the BSP leadership declined to agree to her accepting the invitation.
It was the BSP that backed the Roumen Radev ticket in late 2016 that saw the former air force commander elected Bulgaria’s President. Though described at the time of his election victory as a “pro-Russian”, Radev has insisted that he wants to see a “balanced” foreign policy towards Moscow.
Speaking in a television interview, Zlateva said that “there is an invitation” to Putin and indicated that there was an assurance he would attend.
She said that the 140th anniversary of the liberation from Ottoman rule presented an opportunity for a new impetus to international relations.
“Russia is an important partner in the global world and there must be cooperation, especially on topics such as international terrorism,” Zlateva said.
The 140th anniversary was also referred to in a statement by the Borissov government after he spoke by phone with Putin on May 11.
“Emphasis was also placed on the events dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Bulgarian-Russian treaty for friendly relations and co-operation, which is on August 4 2017, as well as the 140th anniversary of the Liberation of Bulgaria, which will be celebrated in 2018,” the statement said at the time.
The same statement said that Putin and Borissov had discussed the implementation of large-scale energy projects in Bulgaria.
“Both sides underlined their mutual interest in the construction of the European gas hub ‘Balkan’ on Bulgarian territory. The Belene nuclear power station project was also discussed. Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said the government is looking for a strategic private investor to develop the project,” according to the statement.
Among the thorny issues in relations between Sofia and Moscow in recent years was the shutdown by a previous Borissov government of the Belene nuclear power station project, the planning of which dates back three decades to when Bulgaria still was under communist rule.
After an inconclusive referendum on the topic of proceeding with Belene, and the Borissov government’s insistence on not going ahead with the project, there were cost-of-living protests in Bulgaria, mobilised around energy issues. When there was incident of violence in Sofia during these February 2013 protests, Borissov stepped down as prime minister.
In December 2014, not long after Borissov returned to power at the head of his second government, Putin – during a visit to Turkey – announced the shutdown of the South Stream project, effectively blaming Bulgaria.
During the time of the Rossen Plevneliev presidency, especially after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the then-president of Bulgaria was a sharp critic of the Kremlin, a stance from which Radev has departed.
In recent days, however, Putin was the subject of fervent criticism among Bulgarian politicians, historians and other commentators in the media when, on May 24 – the feast day of Saints Cyril and Methodius – the Russian president said that Slavonic writing had come to his country from “Macedonian lands”. The statement, made during talks between Putin and his counterpart from Skopje, caused consternation and indignation in Sofia.
There has been speculation that Putin would visit Bulgaria as the country celebrates its national day on March 3 (the anniversary of the Treaty of San Stefano). Should this be the date, it would mean the Russian leader would be in the country as it holds the rotating presidency of the European Council.
Putin visited Bulgaria in March 2003, during his first term as Russia’s president, when he was hosted by then-president and former BSP leader Georgi Purvanov. In January 2008, during his second term as president, Putin was again hosted in Sofia by Purvanov. In November 2010, Putin, during his second term as Russia’s prime minister, was hosted by counterpart head of government Borissov, who gave him a puppy.
During the 2012 to 2017 Plevneliev presidency, Putin was not hosted in Sofia.