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Ukraine's lost opportunity: Bulgarian experience

Author : News Agency 112 International

Bulgaria step by step becomes a political mediator between the West and Russia, as well as the energy hub
08:43, 3 September 2019

Bulgarian President at a meeting with Russian President
Open source

Bulgaria step by step becomes what we have not been able to become for all the years of independence: a political mediator between the West and Russia, as well as the energy hub. Having learned from Ukrainian experience in 2014, the state is doing its best to avoid total dependence on one actor in international relations. From its own experience, Bulgaria developed pragmatism and it is guided only by its own interests, although taking into account the interests of the allies. Ukraine failed to learn from either its own or its neighbors' mistakes. How was the poorest EU country able to rethink its existence and direction of the political movement?

In 2014, Bulgaria refused to participate in the Russian South Stream project. This decision was made sometime after Senator McCain visited Sofia. The United States responded in this way to the Ukrainian crisis and hit Russian energy interests.

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Bulgaria has repeatedly included Russia in the list of "threats to national security." In 2016 and 2018, in reports on the state of national security, the Kremlin was condemned in documents for implementing hybrid operations and the threat of using military force to protect its interests in the Balkans.

Official Sofia, unlike Moscow, often abandoned its interests in favor of Western partners. However, in recent years, it sees in Western politics double standards and precedents that force the Bulgarian government to act. This primarily concerns Nord Stream 2, to a certain extent Turkish Stream and the skepticism of European countries about the construction of nuclear power plants in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. It was expected that the anti-Russian policy of Bulgaria during the premiership of Boyko Borisov (2009-2013, 2014-2017, 2017 - ...) should have borne fruit especially from the United States and other NATO countries – I mean,  strengthen their support for the state. Bulgaria hoped to receive at least some kind of reward for such a position with regard to Russia, but the result was only the relative indifference of the West to such victims of the Balkan partner. At the same time, three joint projects between Bulgaria and Russia collapsed: the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, the Belene nuclear power plant, and the South Stream gas pipeline.

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The loss of these projects caused more harm to Bulgaria, therefore it is not surprising that after a while it initiated the resumption of the project for the construction of a nuclear power plant in the city of Belene at the Russian expense. The benefit for the country is more than obvious: cheap electricity will become an incentive for the development of industry, reduce dependence on energy imports and reduce the effect of world price fluctuations on the state economy. Bulgaria also agreed to lay one of the Turkish Stream branches through its territory towards Serbia. After the failure of the South Stream construction due to Bulgaria, Russia began negotiations with Turkey on laying a gas pipeline through its territory and further to Southern Europe.

A decade of altruism has given Bulgaria nothing but a primacy in the ranking of the poorest countries in the European Union in 2017/2018. The Bulgarian people were disappointed with such a policy of power and in 2016 elected a new president - Rumen Radev (all local sociologists gave him second place during the first round, but he won). Radev went to the polls under the slogan of a balanced foreign policy and normalization of relations with the Russian Federation. However, it is worth noting that this process is not a transition from a single "pro-Western" vector to the exact opposite - "pro-Russian". Sofia is well aware that in the "package" with economically viable projects there will be a certain increase in Russia's influence. Therefore, now the Bulgarian side has selected companies that will be involved in the tender for the design and construction of the ICGB gas pipeline between Bulgaria and Greece. Actually, gas will be supplied from the Azerbaijani Shah-Deniz II field. Such a new, alternative energy source will deprive Russia of hegemonic status in the energy market of Bulgaria. In addition, in May 2019, the Bulgargaz Company for the first time purchased 140 million cubic meters of American liquefied gas. Such a diversified dependence will save the country from the excessive influence of strong players and give time for the commissioning of its own energy projects.

Thanks to the tandem of politically opposed Boyko Borisov and Rumen Radev, perhaps Bulgaria will find the place for itself on the world stage, where everything is mixed up with threads of dependencies. Their different views on the country's development path are precisely that guarantee of balance, where the pro-Western part is balanced by the pro-Russian and vice versa. Sofia sweeps dust off the shelves of its own interests, to which for a long time not only Europe did not pay attention, but Bulgaria itself.

Ukraine should not forget the Bulgarian experience. We lost the opportunity to become a bridge between Europe and Asia for a long time but did not lose the prospect of becoming completely dependent on another force after we moved away from the Russian vector. According to the author, state pragmatism should dominate during the conduct of foreign policy, since the state does not have eternal allies and constant enemies. Only its interests are eternal and permanent.

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