Former Bulgarian PM Warns of Foreign Meddling, Russia's Influence

Politics | May 7, 2024, Tuesday // 10:02
Bulgaria: Former Bulgarian PM Warns of Foreign Meddling, Russia's Influence @Council of Ministers

In an interview with Spanish publication EL PERIÓDICO, former Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov sheds light on the precarious state of Bulgaria's political landscape, warning against external attempts to sway governmental decisions. Denkov's remarks underscore the nation's pivotal role in European energy transit and the challenges posed by Russia's expanding influence.

Denkov, known for his reform-oriented approach during his tenure, offers insights into the collapse of Bulgaria's pro-European coalition government, citing internal disagreements over crucial reforms in judiciary, energy, and security sectors. Despite facing hurdles, Denkov emphasizes the necessity of forming a stable government to counteract caretaker administrations prone to unilateral decision-making.

Addressing concerns over Russia's dominance in Bulgaria's energy sector, Denkov acknowledges efforts to curb Russian influence, such as prohibiting the import of Russian oil to Lukoil's refinery and reducing reliance on Russian nuclear fuel in Bulgarian nuclear plants. However, resistance persists, notably from Hungary, hindering comprehensive reforms.

As Bulgaria prepares for upcoming elections, Denkov highlights the importance of countering undue influence from figures like Delyan Peevski, embroiled in corruption allegations and sanctioned by Western nations. The nation's future trajectory hinges on Bulgarians' collective resolve to resist external manipulation.

Regarding Russia's control of the energy market in Bulgaria, Denkov was clear:

"Yes this is true, but we have taken some steps, including banning the import of Russian oil to the Lukoil refinery in Burgas. And if someone is cheating (by importing Russian crude oil), we will have to stop it, although it will not be easy. Also, when we came into power, we helped to remove the dependence of the Bulgarian nuclear power plants on Russian nuclear fuel. Another example: we tried to impose a tax on Russian gas, but there was a lot of resistance (from Hungary). Elections are constantly held in Bulgaria and the country is very interesting for Russia. Are you seeing an increase in Russian disinformation campaigns? Let me add to your question. Bulgaria has always been important to Russia because of its historical ties and its position in the Balkans, where Moscow has interests. But Bulgaria's importance to the Kremlin and the EU is growing significantly, as contracts for the supply of gas to Europe through Ukraine expire at the end of the year. If you look at the map of Europe, the gas, wherever it comes from, should be transported through Bulgaria (through the Bulgarian section of "TurkStream"). The geopolitical importance of Bulgaria is growing, and this is particularly important and dangerous. Because of the interest of other countries to control our government. As for disinformation, it's not just here. And despite the great experience of the EU and the US in dealing with it, it has not been easy to break it. Moreover, we have two openly pro-Russian parties and we cannot accept anti-democratic practices."

Regarding Russia's conduct and its ambassador, Eleonova Mitrofanova, Denkov condemns provocative behavior, noting its detrimental impact on Russia's image in Bulgaria. Amidst escalating tensions in Eastern Europe, Bulgarians grapple with conflicting narratives surrounding the Ukrainian conflict, complicating public sentiment towards EU support and military aid for Ukraine.

"Mitrofanova was very aggressive in 2022 and 2023. However, when a diplomat behaves undiplomatically, he or she ends up harming his or her country. The image of Russia in Bulgaria has deteriorated. And when Bulgarians got over their initial fear, they began to wonder why there was a war in Europe again - a war that was very close to home, involving a country that many consider close to them. And these same citizens then began to understand that the threat is not only to Ukraine, but also to the Baltic States, Moldova and Poland. It is said that support for the EU and for sending weapons to Ukraine is decreasing among Bulgarian citizens. I'm not sure. In the beginning, it was very difficult to explain to people this conflict with Russia, why we should help Ukraine with military aid. It was months before the public got the full picture. We see very different messages from the president and the last two governments - the first, headed by Kiril Petkov, and the second - from me. The decision of the parliament is very clear: there is an aggressor, international law must be respected and the attacked country must be helped. The Bulgarian president and his entourage repeat the Russian narratives: do not help Ukraine, fight for peace without explaining how to make this peace sustainable. This is not a trend. Rather, people are confused by the two different narratives from politicians," said the former prime minister/

Denkov's remarks underscore the complexity of Bulgaria's geopolitical position and the delicate balance between European integration and external pressures. As Bulgaria navigates uncertain terrain, its resilience against foreign interference becomes increasingly paramount.

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Tags: Bulgaria, Russia, Denkov, influence

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