The Bulgaria 2010 Review: Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

Politics » DIPLOMACY | Author: Ivan Dikov |January 6, 2011, Thursday // 22:59
Bulgaria: The Bulgaria 2010 Review: Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Brazil's new President Dilma Rousseff with Bulgarian PM Borisov, Dec 30, 2010. BGNES

Bulgaria to Shut Down 7 Embassies over Restructuring

In November, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov formally announced his team proposes to close seven embassies as part of a plan for restructuring and austerity measures.

Thus, in 2011, Bulgaria will most likely shut down its diplomatic missions in Sudan, Angola, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Thailand, Mexico, and Tunisia. The choice is based on a scrutinizing financial analysis and on the necessity to optimize the diplomatic corps, the Ministry says. The staff of the Bulgarian diplomatic corps will be reduced by 15 people in total.

In June 2010, media reports claimed that Bulgaria considers closing a total of 30 of its diplomatic missions abroad. Currently, Bulgaria has 83 embassies, 6 permanent representations, 20 consular offices, and 2 diplomatic bureaus. The proposed closures have been backed by PM Borisov who described some of Bulgaria's embassies as useless.

Foreign Ministry Admits: Bulgarian Diplomatic Appointments Obscure

The need for reform has been put forth as in June, the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Vesela Cherneva admitted that the process for appointing Bulgarian diplomats is not transparent

The Foreign Ministry set out to draft a strategic review of its structures and staff. Thus, upcoming amendments of the Diplomatic Corps Act will provide for a "political quota" of 20% of all diplomatic appointments. Yet, there has to be a clear-cut mechanism for selecting diplomats even if they are from this "political quota."

Cherneva explained that a total of 70 people have been working since March on the strategic review of the structures of the Foreign Ministry divided in seven working groups – a review of the condition, goals, and priorities of Bulgaria's foreign policy; a review of the organizational model of the institution; a review of diplomatic missions abroad; a review of the respective legislation; a review of the consular activities; of the human resource policies; and of information security at the Ministry.

Borisov Cabinet Moves to Recall Dozens of Bulgarian Ambassadors for Ties with Former Communist Regime Services

In mid-December, the Bulgarian diplomatic corps and the government as a whole were shaken by a scandal spurred by the disclosure that almost half of Bulgaria's acting heads of diplomatic missions were collaborators with the notorious "DS", or State Security, the secret police and intelligence service of the Bulgarian communist regime.

A special Bulgarian panel, investigating the communist-era police files, known as the Files' Commission, revealed that 192 diplomats, out of 432, who worked for the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry after the fall of the communist regime in 1989, had records of ties with the former State Security.

Among those 192, 41 (or 45%) are current heads of Bulgarian diplomatic missions, including the Bulgarian ambassadors in the UK, Germany, Italy, UN (New York and Geneva), Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Turkey, Russia, China, Sweden, Romania, Norway, Japan, Qatar, Kuwait, Syria, Egypt, Bosnia, Greece, the Vatican, Slovakia, Albania, Georgia, Armenia, and Venezuela.

Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Mladenov was infuriated by the discovery, and declared his firm determination to purge the diplomatic corps of all former DS agents, arguing that the host countries' leaders would no longer trust the respective Bulgarian diplomats now that those have been revealed to have collaborated with the former communist intelligence and secret police.

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has backed firmly Mladenov stating that the discredited ambassadors have got to go. In order to recall most of them, however, the Borisov Cabinet of the center-right GERB party will need the signature of President Georgi Parvanov, a former leader of the Socialists, with whom GERB has been at odds.

Parvanov, who himself was revealed in 2006 to have worked for DS under the code name "Gotse", has not said explicitly whether he will sign the recall orders of the former-agents-turned-ambassadors but he has defended them. His accusations of double standards for Borisov led the Prime Minister to get his Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov to resign as Dimitrov was the only Cabinet member with a DS record.

As 2010 drew to a close, Borisov and Mladenov has launched measures to recall the 41 discredited diplomats but it is unclear if most of the recalls will get through because of Parvanov's opposition, which might intensify as the President's second term is expiring in 2011-end, and he cannot seek reelection but has sought to a start a new political movement called ABV.

Only one of the discredited Bulgarian diplomats – Georgi Mihov, Bulgaria's Consul-General in the Russian city of St. Petersburg has resigned.

Bulgaria in US "WikiLeaks Cables": Organized Crime and Russian Connections

In November and December, WikiLeaks, the organization devoted to revealing secret documents, made global headlines by providing leading international media such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegel, with some 250 000 confidential US diplomat cables.

The enormous scandal that erupted posed great difficulties for the US diplomacy as the exposed cables contain embarrassing details and comments from the communication between the US State Department and embassies around the world, most dating from 2005 until 2010.

The information on Bulgaria from the US diplomatic cables reveals interesting details about how the American diplomacy views some major Bulgarian issues. In one of the cables, US State Secretary Clinton requests from the US Embassy in Bulgaria to provide information about corruption at the high echelons of power, including sources of financing of political parties and election candidates, and the cabinet's plans to secure transparency of the cash flow.

In a cable, dated June 2009, Washington asked the Embassy in Sofia to provide details on personal relations between Bulgarian leaders and Russian officials and businessmen. It also includes a request for a report on governmental corruption and ties of politicians with organized crime, human and drug trafficking, computer crimes, including child pornography, and credit card fraud, among others.

A leaked report of former US Ambassador to Sofia, James Pardew, dated July 7, 2005, states that organized crime is the foundation of corruption and the ineffective judicial system in Bulgaria, halting economic development. Pardew mentions international-scale money laundering, illegal drug trade and counterfeiting, adding none of the underground ringleaders has been convicted, despite the continuing assassinations. Pardew also points out the US Embassy in Sofia has a list with alleged known crime bosses.

The cable concludes that Russia continues to have strong influence on Bulgarian economy through the export of energy, including oil, natural gas and nuclear fuel and stresses on the importance of the largest Russian oil companies in Bulgaria.

Another WikiLeaks release showed the US Embassy in Sofia is keeping a close eye on ties between the murky Russian businessman, Michael Chorny and the owner of the "Levski" football club, Bulgarian Todor Batkov.

The publication further focuses on the connection between Michael Chorny, declared in 2000 persona non-grata in Bulgaria and his "man in the country, Todor Batkov." The document explains Chorny had to transfer some of his assets to Batkov after being chased away from Bulgaria – namely, the "Levski" football club, the "Bankya Palace" hotel and the "Standard" daily.

Four years later, in 2009, the US Embassy in Sofia sent another cable titled "The Russian Connection" with more detailed information on Batkov, saying the latter had strong political ties and reminding Bulgaria's President, Georgi Parvanov, had awarded him with the country's highest order.

Another WikiLeaks release that first appeared in the Guardian, showed that the Central Intelligence Agency has been drawing up the US state department's secret directives sent in the summer last year to more than 30 US embassies around the world, including Sofia. The intelligence shopping list is drawn up annually by the manager of Humint (human intelligence), a post created by the Bush administration in 2005 in a push to better co-ordinate intelligence after 9/11. Humint is part of the CIA.

According to another leaked US cable, Bulgaria's Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, had expressed the country's readiness to accept two prisoners from Guantanamo in exchange for modest "relocation costs" and lifting of the US visas for Bulgarian citizens. The cable does not say what  agreement had been reached, but a 38-year-old Syrian national was accepted in Bulgaria in May. The negotiations were led by Daniel Fried, a US senior career diplomat, serving now as President Barack Obama's Special Envoy to facilitate the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Bulgaria's government is also revealed to have approved the sale of arms from a private Bulgarian firm to the government of Yemen with the blessing of the United States. The cables show that Bulgaria continues to consult with the United States on an informal basis on arms deals involving potentially controversial destinations, even when this is not mandatory. The deal, funded by the UAE and worth approximately USD 55 million, sent small arms, explosives, ammunition, and other weaponry to Yemen in the first half of 2010.

In the summer of 2008, Bulgaria is revealed to have supported the expulsion of Russia from the Council of Europe because of the Russian-Georgian War along with Belgium, the UK, Denmark, the Baltic Republics, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Sweden.

Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Mladenov has described the scandal with the leaking of US diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks as "September 11" for international diplomacy; he has called it "an extremely ugly deed" which does not help build trust among the people doing diplomatic work.

Bulgarian President Parvanov in turn said there are "worrying" matters in the secret cables released by WikiLeaks. He underscored that in his contacts with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton they have not discussed potential links between members of the previous cabinet and Russian mafia bosses.


Dilma Rousseff and Bulgaria's New Brazilian Horizons

Brazil Elects Bulgaria-Descended Dilma Rousseff for President

On October 31, 2010, 62-year-old Dilma Vana Rousseff of the Workers' Party, whose father Petar Rusev was a leftist Bulgarian emigrant, defeated Social-Democratic candidate Jose Serra in the runoff of Brazil's Presidential Elections with 55.4% of the votes vs. 44.6% (46.6% vs. 33% in the first round) thanks to support by the poorer and middle classes.

Rousseff, who had never held an elected office before, was vigorously promoted by outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is extremely popular as his two Cabinets, which she was part of, lifted 21 million people out of poverty and created 15 million jobs since 2003.

Dilma Vana Rousseff was born on December 14, 1947, in Belo Horizonte, in the family of Bulgarian immigrant Petar Rusev (1900-1962), aka Pedro Rousseff, a lawyer and entrepreneur, and Dilma Jane Silva, a teacher whose parents were ranchers. Her sister Zana Lucia died in 1977 at the age of 26. Dilma's brother Igor Rousseff is a lawyer. Her father, Petar Rusev, died in 1962 when she was 15.

Dilma's life was deeply affected by the military regime which ruled Brazil from 1964 till 1985, and over the next decades she participated in leftist resistance. Dilma was as a leader in VAR Palmares, a Marxist organization. The attorney who prosecuted it called her "Joan of Arc of subversion." She masterminded a robbery of USD 2.5 M from a former governor of S?o Paulo to fund the resistance. However, she was caught in January 1970, tortured for 22 days, and jailed for 3 years.

In 2003, Brazil's President Lula chose Dilma for Minister of Energy. She is famous for implementing a program called "Electricity for All", and later became his Chief of Staff. In 2009 she suffered from cancer in the lymphatic system, from which she recovered. On September 9, 2010, her daughter gave birth to her first grandchild, Gabriel Rousseff Covolo.

Dilma is the first female head of government in Brazil, and the first de facto female head of state since the death of Maria I, Queen of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves, in 1816.

Dilma Rousseff's Bulgarian Origins

Dilma's father, Petar Stefanov Rusev was born in 1900 in Gabrovo, Central Bulgaria. He moved to Sofia to study law and traded with textiles. In 1929, he left his pregnant wife Evdokiya Yankova, and went to France. His wife and son Lyuben-Kamen Rusev heard from him 18 years later.

His departure is shrouded in mystery but it must have been for political reasons as he was involved in the Bulgarian communist movement. Petar Rousseff lived in France for 15 years, heading to Argentina in 1944, and then to Brazil.

He was very close with Nobel Prize-nominated Bulgarian poetess Elisaveta Bagryana (1893-1991), who he met in France. Bagryana, a Bulgarian icon, dedicated poems to him in her "Brazilian Cycle" (written in 1958-1963). She visited his mansion in Brazil in 1960 meeting his wife and kids, including 13-year-old Dilma Vana.

Dilma's Bulgarian half-brother Lyuben-Kamen Rousseff (1930-2008) never met his sister and father. He made a career as an engineer of water dams. He and his wife had no children. He died in 2008 followed as did his wife 2 years later. He dreamed of seeing the carnival in Rio.

On January 1, 2011, Bulgarian PM Borisov and Foreign Minister Mladenov were VIP guests at the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff, presenting her with a golden deer head, a replica of an item from an Ancient Thracian gold treasure, a photograph of her family tree from Museum of History in Gabrovo, the native city of her father, Petar Rusev, and a portrait of Rousseff's aunt, Vana. Dilma was named after her since her whole name is Dilma Vana Rousseff.

In addition to Borisov, the only other European state leaders present at herinauguration were the Spanish Prince Felipe and the Prime Minister of Portugal. The Prime Ministers of South Korea, Algeria, and the Emir of Qatar as well as the presidents of Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Guatemala, Guiana, Peru, El Salvador, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Brazil's incumbent President Lula left the Brazilian Presidency after serving two terms, and with an approval rating of the record 87%.

Over the fall of 2010, Rousseff's rise to prominence in Brazil and her election to the presidency have led to a "Dilma fever" in Bulgaria causing many Bulgarians and the Bulgarian media to focus their attention on Brazil and Latin America.

Many in Bulgaria hope that Dilma's Bulgarian origin will help boost the economic and other ties between Bulgaria and Brazil.

Dilma Rousseff is expected to visit Bulgaria shortly after she is formally sworn into office if one is to judge by her previous declarations that she would love to finally visit the country of her father and to meet with her relatives.

Bulgaria, Brazil Vow to Boost Balkan-Latin American Cooperation

In June, at a meeting in Sofia, the Foreign Ministers of Bulgaria and Brazil Nikolay Mladenov and Celso Amorim issued a joint declaration on the occasion of the visit of the highest-ranking ever Brazilian state official to Sofia. Amorim became Brazil's first ever Foreign Minister to visit Bulgaria, agreed Wednesday that the bilateral relations are friendly and fruitful but that they must be developed much further. Bulgaria supports Brazil in its quest for reform in the UN granting the latter a permanent seat on the Security Council, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim announced after meeting Bulgarian state leaders.


Bulgarian-US Relations  - Perfect, "More Perfect", "Most Perfect"

Even though in 2009 the Bulgarian-US relations were described as better than ever before, they appear to have reached new heights in 2010, if one is to trust the formal statements of both parties.

Borisov Meets Obama, US President's Visit to Bulgaria Still Not on the Horizon

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had two meetings abroad with US President Barack Obama in 2010.

In April, Obama invited to dinner in Prague the state leaders of 11 Eastern European NATO member states, including Borisov, to discuss the US missile defense in Europe, and to reassure them of the US commitment to their security in light of improving America's relations with Russia under Medvedev. "I am hungry," joked Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov when asked by journalists what he expected from the working dinner with the US President.

In June, Obama sent a letter to Borisov to thank Bulgaria and its leadership for the contribution to the ISAF effort in Afghanistan, the commitment to NATO, and resettling one inmate from the Guantanamo detention facility. Bulgaria's position against Iran's uranium enrichment activities was also acknowledged in Obama's letter.

Borisov's other encounter with Obama was at a UN meeting in New York City in September, and was remembered for the fact that he and the US President turned out to be wearing exactly the same suits and ties. His "twin" meeting with American President Obama took place during the official dinner after the opening of the 65th session of the UN General Assembly. Back then Borisov made it clear he was very happy because Obama "knows Bulgaria very well."

During his visit in NYC, Borisov was also welcomed by former US President Bill Clinton.

Clinton: Bulgaria Close US Partner

In October, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Mladenov was received in Washington, DC, by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On part of the Obama Administration, Clinton has pledged American support for Bulgaria's actions in fighting corruption and organized crime, and reforming the judiciary. Clinton remarked she was "impressed" with the good understanding of Mladenov and the Bulgarian government as a whole of global challenges. Major topics of the Clinton-Mladenov meeting focused on the Balkans and the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, where Bulgaria has 600 troops. The US State Secretary received the Bulgarian Foreign Minister just ahead of her tour of the Western Balkans on October 11-14 in which she visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo.

In September, Bulgaria's Ambassador to the USA Elena Poptodorova received special thanks from the US State Department on the occasion of President Obama's declaration of the end of the combat mission in Iraq, thanking Bulgaria for its contribution to the effort of the US-led international coalition in Iraq.

In June, US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg visited Sofia, stating the United States could not wish for a better partnership than it has with Bulgaria. He emphasized the fact that the United States recognize the contribution of Bulgaria and Borisov regarding the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Steinberg declared that Bulgaria must act as a model for the states in Southeastern Europe which are aspiring to join NATO. Shortly before that, in May, Borisov welcomed in Sofia Craig Kennedy, the President of the German Marshall Fund.

Borisov, Interior Get Much Praise by CIA, US Police Authorities

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his government – the Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov in particular – have been lauded throughout 2010 by high-ranking US police and security officials for their efforts to combat international organized crime and to crack down on corruption.

In May, CIA Director Leon Panetta arrived in Sofia on a two-day visit, and even though no formal details have been revealed about the talks between Borisov and Panetta, the CIA is said to have expressed all-out support for the Bulgarian PM.

In December, Tsvetanov was on a week-long working trip to the US, which he characterized as his "most successful ever." Matters of his talks in the US was  the creation of a center for combating cybercrime, as well as ongoing training of Bulgarian security personnel. The opening of an office in Sofia of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also been discussed, and is expected to happen, perhaps in 2011. Tsvetanov met in DC with Michelle Lionheart, Acting Director of DEA.

In October, the US government joined Europol in praising Borisov over the busting of a ring forging EUR and USD banknotes. In June, David Johnson, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, voiced the full support of his government for the establishment of the so-called "mafia tribunals" in Bulgaria.

US Refuses Visa to Discredited Bulgarian Ex-Minister

Throughout the fall of 2010, Rumen Petkov, a senior Socialist Party figure, and former Minister of Interior in 2005-2008 the Stanishev Cabinet, generated a new scandal after he was refused a visa by the US Embassy in Sofia over investigations. While Petkov erupted against US Ambassador Warlick accusing him of lying, current Interior Minister Tsvetanov nonchalantly said Petkov was involved in the redistribution of the amphetamine market in the country.

Bulgaria Builds Solid Ties with US Jewish Organizations

In 2010, Bulgarian authorities and representatives had increased interactions with leading US Jewish advocacy organizations.

In April, two representatives of the Bulgarian Jewish community, Maxim Behar and Victor Melamed, were notable guests at the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's dinner with the American Jewish Committee in DC, with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov also attending.

In August, the Chair of the American Jewish Committee David Harris visited Sofia stating that Bulgaria has the full support and affection of the American Jewish community; Harris was received by the highest Bulgarian state figures. David Harris was conferred with Shofar, the greatest award of the Bulgarian Jewish community, for his contribution to the development of the relations between the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria Shalom and the American Jewish Committee. Bulgarian President Parvanov awarded Harris with the Madara Horseman state order to his contribution to Bulgarian-US ties.

In September, Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov had a meeting with the major US Jewish organizations in New York City. The meeting in the building of the Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to the United Nations in New York was attended by Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Daniel Mariaschin, Executive VP of B'nai B'rith International, David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, Richard Gordon, President of the American Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, Richard Stone, President of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, and Steven Schweiger, the General Director of the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Poptodorova and the Bulgarians in the USA

In August 2010, Elena Poptodorova, a career diplomat who served as Bulgaria's Ambassador to the USA back in 2002-2008, began her second term in DC, with the US authorities hailing the choice of the Borisov Cabinet to reappoint her.

In his meeting with members of the Bulgarian diaspora in New York City in September, Bulgarian PM Borisov invited the Bulgarians there to start thinking of coming back arguing that the reforms of his government should be making Bulgaria a better place to live.

While there are probably hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians living legally in the USA, the illegal Bulgarian immigrants there are estimated at between 15 000 and 40 000, according to Assen Assenov, a Bulgarian professor at the American University School of International Service.

Chicago, the city with the largest Bulgarian population in the US, has seen a new controversial appointment as a Bulgarian comedian, Dimitar Tudzharov, was slated to become a consul there. The Bulgarian consulate in Chicago already features another controversial appointment, Lila Georgieva, a questionable diplomat who is known for her nude photos.

Bulgaria Resettles 1 Guantanamo Inmate

In May, lengthy talks Bulgaria accepted one inmate released from the US detention facility in Guantanamo. The prisoner, a 38-year-old Syrian, was granted refugee status. For months, Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, has reiterated the man will not be of any trouble. The authorities have persistently refused to reveal the identity of the Syrian citizen; they only say he is not a "dangerous terrorist" and has been detained by the US over suspicions of having ties with terrorist organizations' members, but was released from prison status over lack of proof and sent to Bulgaria, a NATO member country. At the beginning of April, information leaked to Bulgarian media that the Bulgarian government agreed to accept a 38-year-old Syrian-born ethnic Kurd named Masum Abda Mohammed. Masum spent nearly eight years at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay on charges of being part of the Osama bin Laden group, fighting in the Tora Bora mountains, and whose name was featured on a list of people trained as sharpshooters and in planting explosives.

Masum insists he has shot no more than seven bullets during his police training in Syria, claims he has been mistaken for a man, nicknamed Bilal, and explains his visit to Afghanistan with searching for a wife, as the price there is ten times lower than in Syria, according to media reports.

Bulgaria decided at the end of last year to accept one detainee from the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, responding positively to Washington request to house prisoners and as a strong gesture of cooperation between Europe and the US.

Bulgaria Figures in US Plans for Missile Defense in Europe

As early as January-February, Bulgarian and US officials revealed there have been informal conversations about the possibility of Bulgaria hosting elements of the US missile shield in Europe. In May 2010, US Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher explained the US had made no formal such request. Bulgaria has supported in principle the establishing of a missile shield in Europe, advertised as a protection from missiles fired from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East, which, during the NATO Summit in Lisbon in November was adopted as a NATO-wide project. While for the time being, Romania and Poland are expected to host interceptor missiles and Turkey – to host the radar, Bulgaria could end up as a reserve radar location if Turkey eventually decides not to participate.

Warlick: A Superstar Ambassador

Since taking over as the new US Ambassador to Bulgaria in January 2010, James Warlick has emerged as one of the most active public figures in the country taking stands on virtually all major issues, and even starring in a hit Bulgarian TV series, "Staklen Dom" ("Glass Home") (becoming the first acting US diplomat to star in a movie, with Secretary Clinton's special permission).

Warlick has been a strong proponent of Bulgarian-US ties, bilateral business relations; he has backed the Borisov government while not hesitating to criticize some Bulgarian state regulations on occasion.

While representatives of the US Republican Party coming to Sofia for events of the marginal conservative party RZS have slammed him for meddling in Bulgaria's internal affairs, Warlick's activeness is generally well-received, with most Bulgarians believing in his sincere good feelings for their country.

For Details of Bulgarian-US Military Cooperation see The Bulgaria 2010 Review: Defense


Bulgaria and Russia – Energy, Hits Below the Black Belts and Puppies

Wobbling Back and Forth along Major Bulgarian-Russian Energy Projects

The three large-scale Bulgarian-Russian energy projects – the South Stream gas transit pipeline, the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, and the Belene Nuclear Power Plant – have remained the highlights of the Bulgarian-Russian relations. While Gazprom's South Stream has gotten Bulgarian backing, and Belene NPP appears to be on the way to secure a final price from Rosatom's Atomstroyexport, Burgas-Alexandropolis is viewed unfavorably in Sofia, officially for environmental reasons even though the third partner in the project – Greece – raised suspicions that the Borisov government might be serving US oil interests by stalling or even killing the project. The price at which Bulgaria buys Russian natural gas from Gazprom – its major supplier – has also been on the agenda.

More about these projects and issues READ in the Bulgarian 2010 Review: Energy

Russia Uneasy over Bulgaria's US, NATO Involvement

Russian officials and especially the Russian press and notable analysts have expressed various security concerns over Bulgaria's alliance with the United States, most often focusing on Bulgaria's potential role in the US/NATO missile shield in Europe.

Even though Russian President Medvedev accepted in principle the NATO offer to cooperate on missile defense at the NATO summit in Lisbon in November, the exact parameters of this potential Russia-NATO cooperation remain unclear.

In June, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov described as a "joke" a reported suggestion by a senior Russian military officer and scholar that the full-fledged cooperation between NATO and Russia on missile defense in Europe would require stationing Russian missiles in Bulgaria and Romania. Also in June, publications in the Russian press declared that Bulgaria's hopes to become a regional power strongly allied with the USA are causing it to pull out of the planned large-scale Russian energy projects in the Balkans.

In October, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Mladenov refuted reports of talks between NATO and Russia for imposing a ban on locating "substantial combat forces" in the new member states of the Alliance in Central and Eastern Europe such as Bulgaria.

Borisov, Putin, and Buffy: from Pragmatic Animosity to Shared Love for Puppies

In November, Russia's Prime Minister and overarching leader Vladimir Putin paid a much anticipated visit to Borisov in Sofia for high-level energy talks that appear to have paved the way for reaching a Bulgarian-Russian agreement on the Bulgarian section of South Stream, and for moving ahead the talks on Belene NPP (though not on the BA oil pipeline). Putin's visit was preceded in July by a visit to Sofia by his deputy, Viktor Zubkov.

In the months prior to Putin's visit, the Bulgarian government claimed it has "very good dialogue" with Russia despite the uncertainties about the three energy projects. In July, PM Borisov remarked that talk of any kind of war between him and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is "fiction," and praised Putin for their dialogue.

After visiting Bulgaria in 2003 and 2008, in November 2010, Putin made his third state visit to Bulgaria, in turn thanking Bulgaria for the attention it paid to its relations with Russia in the past few months.

While Russia has insisted on boosting cultural cooperation, and Bulgaria – on boosting trade, one of the highlights of Putin's visit to Bulgaria ended up being the special present that he received from Borisov – a cute Bulgarian shepherd puppy named Yorgo, later renamed Buffy in Russia, whose photo made it to frontpages around the world.

Regular Russians Talks with Love for Bulgaria Once Again

In August, Borisov sent 100 Bulgarian firefighters to help put out the ranging wild fires in Russia's Moscow region, rekindling the good feelings that ordinary Russians traditionally have for Bulgaria.


Bulgaria's Ties with Germany – or Merkel's Unwavering Backing for Borisov

After a Borisov-Merkel meeting in Germany in January 2010, in October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who has expressed firm support for Bulgaria's Borisov, a fellow center-right leader, since before he became PM – finally made her long-anticipated first official visit to Bulgaria.

Merkel was literally showered with honors in Sofia such as a doctor honoris causa title by the Bulgarian Ruse University "Angel Kanchev" and the highest Bulgarian state order.

She praised Bulgaria's financial stability and urged the Bulgarian government to boost the absorption of EU money; she also declared her all-out support for the expansion of Bulgarian-German economic relations. Germany, the largest economy in the EU and the euro zone, is Bulgaria's No. 1 trading partner.

In a follow-up letter to Borisov in November, Merkel praised highly the quality of German-Bulgarian diplomatic relations.

At a meeting in Sofia in June, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov and his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle described the Bulgarian-German relations as "perfect."

In 2010, Bulgaria has enjoyed special attention on part of the business sector and government of the Free State of Bavaria, one of Germany's richest provinces. Major business and government Bulgarian-Bavarian meetings took place in March, September, and October.

Bulgaria's image in Germany was marred by an incident on a Lufthansa flight in March in which Bulgarian nationalist leader, Volen Siderov of the Ataka party, which backs the Borisov Cabinet, allegedly uttered racial slurs and offenses at flight attendants.

Bulgarian Govt Gets Much Praise from Austrian Chancellor

In July, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann welcomed in Vienna Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and a Bulgarian government delegation.


Bulgaria's Ties with France: Roma and Schengen

While Borisov has traditionally enjoyed close ties with French President Sarkozy, the Buglarian-French relations in 2010, especially in the second half of the year, were affected by France's campaign to expel Bulgarian and Romanian Roma considered a safety risk, and France's eventual opposition to Bulgaria's 2011 Schengen Area accession.

More details on these issues read in The Bulgaria 2010 Review: Bulgarian in the EU.

In the fall of 2010, French Ambassador Etienne de Poncins completed his term in Bulgaria but not before he got in arguments with the Bulgarian leaders. In September, President Parvanov slammed him defining as "patronizing" his suggestion that Bulgaria should appoint a Minister on Roma issues. Meanwhile, PM Borisov criticized him for saying that Bulgaria should decide on whether it wants to let Turkey in the EU.

In 2010, Bulgaria sent Marin Raykov as its Ambassador to France for a second term, after he served there in 2001-2005.


Bulgaria and Italy, Borisov and Berlusconi: Garibaldi Monument in Sofia, Vazov Monument in Rome

In June, a rather moving ceremony with excited crowds marked the opening of a monument of Guiseppe Garibaldi in downtown Sofia by the Prime Ministers of Italy and Bulgaria, Silvio Berlusconi and Boyko Borisov, on the latter's birthday.

Berlusconi arrived for a three-hour visit in Sofia specially for the opening of the monument of the Italian national hero, and for the birthday of his Bulgarian counterpart, who turned 51.

This marked the second visit of the Italian PM to Bulgaria and his third meeting with Borisov in 9 months, after the two met in Rome at the end of May 2010 for the opening of a monument of the greatest Bulgarian writer and poet Ivan Vazov in the Italian capital.

Berlusconi declared time and again his backing for Borisov, as the Bulgarians and Italians rediscovered their historical and cultural ties – for example, the stories of the dozens of Bulgarians fighting under Garibaldi's flag for the freedom of "Young Europe" back in the 19th century.

Vatican Issues Apology over TV Mix-up of Bulgaria, Macedonia

On May 24, a Borisov-led Bulgarian state delegation traditionally visited the Vatican for the Day of Slavic Script and Bulgarian culture, honoring the grave of St. Cyrill in Rome, with the Bulgarian delegation getting the traditional blessing by the Pope. The Bulgarian event in 2010 in Rome marked the first time the celebration was joined by Russian and Ukrainian envoys.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has expressed its regret over the report of Vatican TV which presented the Bulgarian delegation meeting Pope Benedict XVI as Macedonian.


Bulgaria PM: We Restored Cooperation with UK Intelligence

During his visit to London in February 2010, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov declared that restoring the cooperation between Bulgarian and UK intelligence services was a major success.

The PM pointed out he was happy about the future UK investment – the building of an electric car plant in Stara Zagora. He stated again that UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown had backed Bulgaria in its aspirations to join the Eurozone, and that Great Britain had declared its support for the Nabucco gas transit pipeline.

Borisov was was given a rather warm welcome by the Bulgarian community in London, UK. He made it clear the UK authorities had agreed to look once again into the evidence on the murder of Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov in 1978.

The issue about allowing Bulgarians to work in the UK has remained on the table of the bilateral relations, especially after in the spring of 2010, Conservative Party leader David Cameron became Prime Minister with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats of Nick Clegg forming a coalition as the Liberals failed to perform well in the general elections.

In December, the UK said it appointed John Allen as Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Republic of Bulgaria, who will succeed Steve Williams.


Bulgaria and the People's Republic of China: Industrial Zones, Ports, Airports, High-Speed Rail for the Future

In 2010, Bulgaria's Borisov government intensified its ties with the Chinese authorities especially with respect to potential joint economic projects such as Chinese concessions of Bulgarian ports and airports, and the construction of a joint industrial zone near Sofia (see the 2010 Industry Review for details); by the end of 2010, Bulgaria even got an invite by China to join its project for a high-speed rail to Europe via Turkey.

In September, Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov had a rather cordial meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in New York City, which he described as the most important meeting on the sidelines of the 65th session of the UN General Assembly.

During the meeting, Wen said China and Bulgaria have traditional friendship, and that bilateral ties have weathered various tests and are now faced with new opportunities for development. For his part, Borisov said Sino-Bulgarian ties are a good model of friendly relations between countries of different social systems. The Bulgarian prime minister has repeatedly underscored the importance of the meeting because of the expectations for attracting Chinese investments.

Wen has made it clear that China would consider investing in a Bulgarian nuclear energy project such as the Belene NPP – but said it wanted to do so if such a project would use Chinese nuclear technology, while Bulgaria already has an agreement with Russia for Belene.

In August, Bulgarian Vice-President Angel Marin paid a visit to China; several Bulgarian ministers – Economy Minister Traikov, Transport Minister Tsvetkov, deputy ministers, and other officials in the economic sphere visited China to push forth specific projects.


Bulgaria in the Balkans

Bulgaria and Turkey: Uneasy Ties with Rising Regional Superpower

Even though both Bulgaria and Turkey have declared their relations to be exemplary, 2010 saw tensions in them with respect to several matters.

2010 became with a statement by former Diaspora Minister Dimitrov that Bulgaria might veto Turkey's EU bid unless the latter provides compensations worth billions of dollars to the descendants of Bulgarian refugees who fled European Turkey in 1913-1919 leaving behind their properties. The statement was quickly withdrawn and Dimitrov was scolded for it by PM Borisov. Meanwhile, Turkish PM Erdogan expressed readiness to provide compensations as long as any legally based documents and evidence are presented.

The issue about vetoing Turkey's potential EU accession did not go away throughout 2010, with the nationalist party VMRO collecting 330 000 signatures in support of a motion for a referendum in Bulgaria. The idea was supported by the largest nationalist party Ataka, which is an informal ally of Borisov's ruling party GERB, which even threatened to withdraw its support from Borisov as the latter said Turkey had Bulgaria's backing to join the EU.

By the end of 2010, the Bulgarian Parliament balked at scheduling a referendum, obviously seeking to avoid any trouble for the Cabinet that such a motion might produce.

In January 2010, Bulgarian PM Borisov visited Ankara for talks with PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan slamming the Bulgarian ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) and telling Erdogan the two countries do not need "ethnic parties" to act as "intermediaries" between them.

In October, when Erdogan visited Sofia, he and Borisov exchanged what can only be described as big time niceties demonstrating cordial relations and mutual understanding on all major points of bilateral relations.

Their showing of closeness appeared to be significant after in September the Bulgarian PM recently snubbed Turkish President Abdullah Gul at a Balkan leaders' dinner organized by Turkey in New York City, allegedly because the Turkish hosts sought to demonstrate their country's political and economic weight.

Earlier in September, Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov sent an official letter to greet Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the positive results of Turkey's Sunday constitutional referendum amending the country's basic law to the agenda of the Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, canceled at the last minute a planned meeting with the leader of the Bulgarian ethnic Turkish party, Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Ahmed Dogan, a move that has been discussed much in the Bulgarian media but Erdogan's motives for that have remained publicly unclear.

In any case, the niceties exchanged between Erdogan and Borisov in Sofia in October moved the nationalists from Ataka led by Volen Siderov to show up in Parliament with shirts saying "no" to Turkey in the EU.

In 2010, Turkey emphasized the problem with the current Chief Mufti in Bulgaria. The issue has been in place since the spring when the Bulgarian court restored to this post Nedim Gendzhev in the place of the popularly elected Mustafa Hadzhi, a decision widely protested by the Bulgarian Muslim community, which consists of ethnic Bulgarian Muslims, ethnic Turks, and immigrants from the Arab world.

In March, 2010, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutogly – often described as the architect of Turkey's neo-Ottoman foreign policy - visited Sofia stating that Bulgaria and Turkey are an international model for good neighborly relations. Outgoing Turkish Ambassador to Sofia, Mehmed Gyudjuk, was awarded with the country's highest order "Stara Planina" in November.

Bulgaria and Greece at 130: Finally More Border Crossings, Joint Cabinet Sessions

In 2010, the modern states of Bulgaria and Greece marked the 130th year of their formal diplomatic relations. While Greece was mostly focused on its budget deficit problems and austerity measures, the ties with Bulgaria saw much progress.

Even though in January and in September protests by Greek farmers and then by Greek truck drivers hurt Bulgarian truck operators who suffered losses as a result, the relations between the two states progressed in a mutually favorable direction.

In January, Bulgarian PM Borisov and Greek PM Papandreou cut the ribbon for a new border crossing on the Bulgarian-Greek border at Zlatograd-Xanthi in the Rhodope Mountain, the fourth border crossing point between the two states.

In September, the Presidents of Bulgaria and Greece, Georgi Parvanov and Karolos Papoulias formally opened the Ivaylovgrad-Kyprinos border crossing close to Bulgaria's Kardzhali and Greece's Alexandroupolis as part of the celebrations of the 130th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In July, for the first time ever, the Cabinets of Bulgaria and Greece held a joint sitting, coupled with bilateral meetings between all ministers.

Bulgaria and Romania: When Will Two Nations Start Acting as One?

Bulgarian-Romanian ties have come even closer in 2010 but probably not as close as they really should be.

In February, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov and his Romanian counterpart Teodor Baconschi met in Sofia declaring that Bulgaria and Romania should replace their pointless regional competition with full-fledged cooperation.

In May, the now former Romanian Interior Minister Vasile Blaga said that Bulgaria and Romania act as one state with respect to police cooperation – as a revolutionary deal brought Romanian policemen to patrol Bulgarian Black Sea resorts together with their Bulgarian counterparts – a procedure that made much sense with some 1 million Romanian tourists visiting Bulgaria annually.

In September, Romanian President Traian Basescu paid a visit to Sofia, and in November Bulgarian PM Borisov was in Bucharest. Both visits saw highest-level declarations for specific infrastructure projects such as bridges on the Danube and hydro power plants. Unfortunately, however, it turned out that the second Danube bridge between the two states at Vidin-Calafat will not be completed in 2011 as it was supposed to.

In December, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov said there were indications the hated levy for passing through the Danube Bridge linking Bulgaria's Ruse and Romania's Giurgiu might be abolished – perhaps even unilaterally by Bulgaria.

Towards the end of 2010, however, Bulgaria and Romania descended into what appear to be mutual accusations – or at least going it alone approach – on the EU-wide Roma issue and on the problem with respect to their Schengen accession.

Bulgaria and Serbia: Nuclear Plant, Highway, and Bulgarian Minority

Bulgaria's development of its relations with Kosovo does not appear to have hindered its ties with Serbia as in 2010, the two states saw much bilateral diplomatic activity with PM Borisov visiting Serbia in April, and Serbian President Boris Tadic returning the visit in August.

A November visit of Serbian PM Cvetkovic to Bulgaria failed over a plane engine trouble and is yet to take place.

While Bulgaria has declared special support for Serbia's EU accession – including at a trilateral meeting it held together with Greece and Serbia in December in Sofia – the major focus of the ties has been the future of the construction of the Sofia-Nis highway, a road with European significance - the two government heads also agreed that the Sofia-Nis Highway, which is part of the Pan-European Transport Corridor No. 10, should be ready by 2012. The 60-km Bulgarian section of the road will hope to get EUR 350 M in funding from EU programs.

The other major development is Serbia's interest in backing the project for a second Bulgarian nuclear power plant at Belene.

The Borisov Cabinet invited Serbia to consider a 1-2% share in the project, but Serbian officials indicated it could go for more – about 5% to 10%.

Meanwhile, in the summer, as the Cabinet declared backing for Serbia's EU bid, members of the Bulgarian minority in Serbia protested in Sofia demanding protection from the Bulgarian government.

In November, the Serbian border authorities refused to let in the country members of the nationalist party Ataka, a partner of the Borisov Cabinet, traveling by buses to Bosilegrad to mark the 91st anniversary since the signing of the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine.

The Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, dealing with Bulgaria for its role as one of the Central Powers in World War I, was signed on 27 November 1919 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France; one of its clauses was ceding 2 500 square km of territory to Serbia – which today is still inhabited by a Bulgarian minority.

Bulgaria and Macedonia: Frustrated Hopes for Friendship Treaty and Actual Friendship

Bulgaria's relations with Macedonia – a country considered in Sofia to have once been an integral part of the Bulgarian nation – were uneasy and strained in 2010 over a number of issues.

While a record number of Macedonians – more than 7 000 – acquired Bulgarian passports in only in the first half of 2010 based on their "Bulgarian origin", there have been increased number of reports of cases of harassment of Macedonians with ethnic Bulgarian self-conscious by the Macedonian authorities and society such as the cases of young mother Spaska Mitrova, which dragged on since 2009, and Zdravko Zdraveski, including measures against Macedonians whose cars have Bulgarian license plates.

Not surprisingly, Bulgarian Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov praised an August publication of the French daily "Le Figaro" for defining the Macedonian Slavs as Bulgarians.

In June, an Initiative Committee of Bulgarians from Macedonia invited psychiatric help for the Macedonia government saying the state leaders of the Republic of Macedonia are "mentally ill" because of their attitudes towards Bulgaria.

The most interesting Bulgarian diplomatic project has been the attempt to sing a so called "Friendship Treaty" to define fully the bilateral relations – a project of the former Bulgarian government offered to Macedonia in 2008, and also taken up by the Borisov Cabinet.

While Foreign Minister Mladenov and Bulgaria's new Ambassador to Macedonia Rakovski Lashev have argued the friendship treaty would help Macedonia in a number of ways including with its EU bid, the treaty has been viewed in Skopje with suspicions, with the Macedonian press using it to assault the Bulgarian position.

At the end of 2010, the Macedonian press even accused Bulgaria of backing Greece in the notorious dispute for the name of Macedonia even though Bulgaria has sought to stay out of the Greek-Macedonian argument which has done much damage to Macedonia since Greece has vetoed its NATO and EU accession talks.

Bulgaria Calls on Kosovo, Serbia to Begin Dialogue

Unlike its neighbors Romania, Greece, and Serbia, Bulgaria has not only recognized Kosovo but has been developing actively its relations with the newest Balkan state.

In the fall of 2010, Bulgaria opened officially its embassy in Kosovo.

In July, after the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion said that Kosovo's independence was not contrary to international law, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov urged Serbia and Kosovo to begin dialogue.

In July, Bulgaria and Kosovo started cooperation in the culture sphere, and in April an emblematic visit launched the bilateral parliamentary cooperation as Bulgaria became the first country ever to be visited by a delegation of the Kosovo Parliament.

Bulgaria with Firm Backing for Croatia's EU Entry

In July, Bulgarian PM Borisov met in Dubrovnik with his Croatian counterpat Jadranka Kosor, confirming Bulgaria's backing for Croatia's EU entry.

Even though in the fall of 2010, Croatia did not respond positively to Bulgaria's offer for a small share in the Belene nuclear power plant, the ties between Bulgaria and Croatia have traditionally been warm and cordial.

Bulgaria Offers Montenegro More Consular Services on Its Behalf

In May, Bulgaria offered Montenegro to expand the consular services that it offers on its behalf in other countries around the world, Foreign Minister Mladenov said during his visit to Podgorica.


Bulgaria in the Middle East 

Bulgaria's Hopes for Hosting Direct Israeli-Palestinian Talks

As in the first half of 2010, Bulgaria had intensive diplomatic activities with both the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, by mid summer there were hopes in Sofia that the country might be picked to host the resumed direct peace talks for the Middle East.

The talks were eventually held in Washington, DC, the US capital, but have yielded little result as both sides have accused one another of being intransigent with respect to their major issues.

Bulgaria Forges Ever Closer Ties with Israel

In January, the Bulgarian government started the diplomatic year with a visit to Israel and Palestine. PM Borisov prayed for Bulgaria's welfare at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall amidst detailed high-level talks with Israeli state leaders, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Borisov attended a commemorative ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust on his two day visit to Israel.

The incident with the flotilla destined for the Gaza Strip stormed by Israeli commandos in June, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed, caused a crisis in Turkish-Israeli ties but led to a boost of Isreal's connections with other Balkan countries, notably with Bulgaira. Bulgaria also benefitted by seeing a large number of Israeli tourists traditionally going to Turkey visit Bulgarian resorts. 

In June, Israel's Yad Vashem, the "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority", recognized a seventh Bulgarian, Vladimir Kurtev, as "a Righteous Among the Nations" for his role in the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps in 1943.

During his visit to Bulgaria in August, Israeli President Shimon Peres promised peace between Israel and Palestine.

He also stated that the Bulgarian Jews who emigrated to Israel after World War II and their descendants have not forgotten their Bulgarian roots. The Israeli President explicitly emphasized the many virtues of the Bulgarian Jewish immigrants in Israel and their warm feelings for Bulgaria, and thanked the Bulgarian people for rescuing some 50 000 Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps in 1943.

Bulgarian-Isreali economic relations have moved to focus on the potential of cooperation in hi-tech and agriculture.

In October, Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov was visited in Sofia by the Director of Mossad, Meir Dagan, both expressing their satisfaction with the cooperation and successful joint operations of the Bulgarian and Israeli security services.

In a letter to the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, Shalom, in December Israeli President Peres lauded the role of Bulgaria's Jewish community in the bilateral relations.

Also in December, Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visiting Bulgaria thanking it for sending fire-fighters to help tackle the recent conflagration near Haifa.

He further declared Israel's resolve to fight Hamas, and pointed out that the EU can contribute to the Middle East Peace Process not just as a humanitarian aid sponsor but also in the security realm. In his talks with Lieberman, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov declared Bulgaria's readiness to be provide assistance in the Middle East Peace Process negotiations to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Bulgaria Supports Independent Palestinian State; Abbas: Bulgaria Friendly Nation

In January, Bulgaria's Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov the temporary Palestine capital Ramallah to meet with Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad, and President Mahmoud Abbas. Borisov also paid respects at the grave of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Borisov pointed out that the Palestinian leaders have asked him to convey a message of peace to high-ranking figures in the European Union.

Bulgaria supports strongly the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, stated Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov in Ramallah during a visit in June.

In July, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov welcomed in Sofia his Palestinian counterpart, Ryiad Al-Maliki with the two agreeing that Bulgaria will provide opportunities for the training of Palestinian security forces and for education of Palestinian citizens.

Al-Maliki was part of the delegation led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who returned Borisov's visit from January.

Borisov told Abbas that Palestinians living in Bulgaria enjoy good life, with Abbas describing Bulgaria as a friendly nation to Palestine.

The two sides backed the idea to set up a bilateral businessmen's council as part of the Bulgarian-Palestinian intergovernmental commission.

Lebanon PM Set to Open Doors to Arab World for Bulgaria

"Lebanon needs Bulgaria and Bulgaria needs Lebanese investment," Lebanese PM Saad Hariri said in Sofia in March. The Bulgarian PM and Foreign Minister returned the visit in December, promising to help the Bulgarian community in Lebanon open their own school. The Association of Lebanese Graduates of Bulgarian Universities even presented Prime Minister Borisov with a certificate of recognition of his contribution to the development of the Bulgarian-Lebanese relations.

Bulgaria, Qatar Set Up Joint Venture Investment Company

In March, Bulgaria and Qatar agreed to set up a joint company through which investments of the Arab country will be developed in Bulgaria. Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad al-Thani welcomed Bulgarian PM Borisov in Doha. The Qatari PM also announced that he expected his country would open an embassy in Bulgaria shortly.

Bulgaria Govt Wants Greater Economic Interaction with Egypt

Bulgaria wants to forge ever closer ties with Egypt, especially in economic exchange, stated PM Boyko Borisov during the visit in Sofia of Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in December. Aboul Gheit also met with his Bulgarian counterpart Nikolay Mladenov, who stressed on the traditional friendship between the two nations.

High Level Bulgarian Delegations Visit Morocco

Two high-level Bulgarian delegations visited Morocco in 2010 – one led by Parliament Chair Tsetska Tsacheva, and the other by Economy Minister Traikov. The specific result was that Bulgaria and Morocco signed an industrial cooperation agreement.

Bulgaria, Libya Agree on Need of Cooperation

In November, Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, and Libya's PM Baghdadi al-Mahmudi agreed on creating a program for recovering the economic relations between the two countries. Mladenov was in Tripoli for his participation in the summit between the European Union and Africa.

Bulgaria's Formula 1 Scandal Raises Alarm about Middle East Ties

A scandal that emerged in September 2010 had the potential to jeopardize Bulgaria's ties with Middle Eastern country's, according to Foreign Minister Mladenov.

Abu Dhabi Company Emirates Associated Business Group (EABG) got tangled in the scandal as Bulgarian authorities  announced it will invest in the project to build a Formula 1 racetrack. Then a Bulgarian daily cited a company statement later exposed as having been edited by the paper that EABG did not mean to invest in Bulgaria. While EABG and its representative Anwar Badwan eventually confirmed the company's desire to invest in a Bulgarian Formula 1 track, with specific arrangements with FIA expected by December 2010, the project for the racetrack remains up in the air as no contract have been signed to date.

Bulgaria's Renewed Ties with Syria – Best since 1980s

The Bulgarian-Syrian relations saw much dynamic in 2010 even though it was somewhat marred by a diplomatic blunder.

In April, Prime Minister Borisov paid a formal visit to Syria with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad returning the visit in November; this was the first visit of a Syrian head of state since his father Hafez al-Assad last was in Bulgaria in October 1987. Back then communist Bulgaria before 1989 and Syria enjoyed especially good relations.

While Bulgaria has declared it backed Syria for an Association Agreement with the EU, the major development was the partial settlement of the Syrian debt to Bulgaria. Syria paid Bulgaria USD 17 M which is 24% of the total USD 75 M debt to Bulgaria.

In August, the Bulgarian press leaked government information that Syria almost broke ties with Bulgaria over a blunder of Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov related to the US missile defense. In June, 2010, Angelov declared that the country must join the US missile shield in Europe because of the threats it faces from certain Middle Eastern countries, naming specifically Iran and Syria; he suggested Syria is developing medium-range missile technologies for offensive purposes. This necessitated an emergency secret visit of Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov to Syria, which was not announced to the media.

Bulgaria Urges Iran to Drop Uranium Enrichment Immediately

Bulgaria's ties with Iran did not see much dynamic in 2010 other than Bulgarian urges for Iran to stop all uranium enrichment activities until the controversy about its nuclear program is resolved.

This is what Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov told his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki in Sofia in May 2010, when the latter unexpectedly showed up for a meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation in Sofia, in which Iran has only an observer status.

However, Mladenov also emphasized the fact that Bulgaria and Iran traditionally enjoy good relations, and that he hoped the two states will soon sign a legal assistance agreement, and while Bulgaria shared the issues of concern to the international community, it differentiated between these matters and the strictly bilateral relations.

At the end of 2010, Iranian President Ahmadinejad replaced Mottaki with the head of the Iranian nuclear program Ali Akbar Salehi, shortly after Salehi started new nuclear talks with the six powers – USA, Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany – represented by EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton.


Bulgaria and Poland: Partners in Eastern Europe

In April, Bulgaria joined the world in mourning the traffic plane crash near Smolensk in which Polish President Lech Kaczynski perished with an entire Polish government delegation for a remembrance of the Katyn Massacre. The Bulgarian delegation was prevented from attending Kaczynski's funeral from the cloud of Icelandic volcanic ash that disrupted European air traffic for weeks.

Subsequently, as the ruling party candidate Bronislaw Komorowski won the Polish presidential elections, he was saluted by the Bulgarian state.

In October, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited Bulgaria declaring his country's support for Bulgaria's Schengen entry.

Bulgaria First to Offer Help for Hungary Toxic Sludge

In October, Bulgaria moved to offer help to Hungary fight a toxic sludge along the Danube that turned into an international disaster.

Bulgaria, Georgia Hail EU Envoy to Tbilisi Dimitrov

The prime ministers of Bulgaria and Georgia are upbeat about Bulgarian Filip Dimitrov's role as EU Ambassador to Georgia. Prime Minsiter Boyko Borisov and his Georgian counterpart Nikoloz "Nika" Gilauri met in Sofia in October. Filip Dimitrov, ex-PM (1992-1993) and senior diplomat from Bulgaria, took up his post as the EU Ambassador to Georgia in November as part of the EU External Actions Service led by High Representative Catherine Ashton. (More details read in the 2010 Bulgaria in the EU Review.)

Bulgaria to Get Azerbaijan Gas in 2011 via Georgia, Turkey

Bulgaria should receive its first natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan in 2011, agreed the presidents of the two countries, Georgi Parvanov and Ilham Aliyev, in June 2010 in Baku. Parvanov returned a visit of his Azerbaijan counterpart that Aliyev made to Sofia in November 2009.

The two presidents evaluated positively the project for the supplies of compressed natural gas from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria through Georgia, which was negotiated during their previous meetings, and agreed that the bilateral working group on its should speed up its activity. In April 2010, Bulgaria's northern neighbor Romania already stroke a similar deal with Azerbaijan and Georgia so Bulgaria appears to be lagging far behind Romania in this respect.

The new element in the Bulgaria-Azerbaijan energy relations discussed by the two heads of state Wednesday has to do with the possibility for transiting gas from the Caspian country to Bulgaria via Turkey. The two presidents have set 2011 as the deadline for delivering the first Azerbaijan natural gas supplies to Bulgaria. In this respect, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has backed a proposal of his Bulgarian counterpart for organizing a trilateral meeting of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, and Turkey in order to negotiate the specifics about such the new project to deliver Caspian gas to Bulgaria and the Balkans.

Bulgaria vs. Somali Pirates: Deals Settled for the Time Being

As maritime traffic in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia continued to suffer from the hits of the Somali pirates throughout 2010, Bulgaria saw three fully or partly Bulgarian crews be hijacked with their vessels.

The UK-owned ships the St. James Park and the Asian Glory were hijacked on December 29, 2009, and January 1, 2010, respectively. The St. James Park had five Bulgarian sailors on board, among other crew, and the Asian Glory had 8 Bulgarians on board. The five Bulgarians from the St. James Park were released at the end of May 2010, together with the other crew members, while the men from the Asian Glory came home in mid July.

On May 11, 2010, the MV Panega became the first ever Bulgaria-flagged ship to be hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Its 15-member all-Bulgarian crew arrived home on September 15, 2010.

In all three cases, there has been no information leaked to the public about the exact ransom sums and who paid them.

The first case of Somali kidnapped Bulgarian sailors was in April 2009 with the hijacking of the Malaspina Castle, which was released for a USD 900 000 ransom in about two months. The ship's 24-member crew had 16 Bulgarians. 

Bulgaria-Vietnam – Settling Old Debts, Placing Hopes on Old Ties

The ties between Bulgaria and Vietnam saw some interesting dynamics in 2010.

In August, Vietnam paid out its entire debt to Bulgaria as agreed in July 2010; the Southeast Asian country paid to Bulgaria about USD 725 000. Its total debt was USD 1.325 M, but the remaining USD 600 000 will be considered development aid to the Vietnamese economy, part of Bulgaria's commitments within the EU.

In July, Bulgarian Finance minister Simeon Djankov and Vietnamese First Deputy PM Nguyen Sinh Hung singed a treaty in Sofia for the settlement of the Vietnamese debt to Bulgaria.

All major Bulgarian foreign policy institutions have agreed that the some 30 000 Vietnamese graduates from Bulgarian universities are a crucial prerequisite for boosting the bilateral business relations. At a visit in Sofia in October, Vietnam's Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan, a graduate of a Bulgarian university, expressed her country's gratitude for Bulgaria for providing education to many Vietnamese back in the COMECON days in the 1970s and 1980s. In November, Nguyen Thi Doan received in Vietnam a Bulgarian delegation of professors, teachers, social activists and diplomats...

In 2008, as the Bulgarian economy was booming shortly before the global crisis hit, and the country started experiencing a shortage of workers, the authorities of Bulgaria and Vietnam started discussing the possibility of "importing" Vietnamese laborers. As Bulgaria's unemployment subsequently soared to 9%-10%, this possibility has not been a matter of further discussion.

Bulgaria in the Politics of the Korean Peninsula

All through 2010, Bulgaria denounced North Korea's aggressive polices, and simultaneously sought to expand its economic ties with South Korea, as Bulgaria and South Korea celebrated 20 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1990.

In May and again in September, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov spoke at the UN in favor of boosting the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In November, Bulgaria condemned North Korea's provocations including an artillery attack against South Korea's Yeonpueong Island, which emerged as the most serious incident between the two Koreas since the 1953 armistice of the Korean War.

In December, a delegation of the Bulgarian Atlantic Club consisting of the President of the Atlantic Club, Bulgaria's former Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, and businessman Maxim Behar, CEO of M3 Communications Group, Inc., who is an Atlantic Club Board member, visited South Korea at the invitation of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, seeking to promote bilateral economic and business ties, and to share Bulgarian and EU experience that can help for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. 

Bulgaria Moves to Boost Ties with Non-Western Countries

In September, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov had a number of meetings at the UN with his counterparts from non-Western countries in search of new economic opportunities.

Mladenov was in New York for the 65th regular session of the UN General Assembly, meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Iraq, Israel, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Gabon and Georgia.

Speaking in December in Sofia, Mladenov suggested that Bulgaria should try to go back to Africa even though it had lost the diplomatic positions it had there in the past. He stated that many of the African countries need engineering services, and infrastructure construction, which are things that Bulgaria has done there in the past, and in which it "still" has specialists.

Mladenov also said the Bulgarian government is considering what offers it can make to African countries in that regard but point out that it should be careful so as not to promise things that it might be unable to deliver subsequently.

During the communist period, largely as part of the policies of the Soviet Bloc's Cold War policies, Bulgaria established ties with a number of African countries, offering development assistance, and also providing university education for African students. These policies were discontinued altogether after the fall of the communist regime in 1989.

Bulgaria Wants New Eastern Europe Seats in UN Security Council

Bulgaria wants at least one new non-permanent UN Security Council seat for Eastern Europe, Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov told the UN General Assembly in September. In his speech, he urged the international community "to prove wrong all those who believe that the world is heading for an irresolvable clash of civilizations", while also vowing increased involvement on part of Bulgaria in international humanitarian efforts. One of the main points that Mladenov focused in his speech was the commitment to peace and stability in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, including the resolving of the issues in the Western Balkans.

Meanwhile, in meetings with PM Borisov in NYC UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Joseph Deiss, who chaired the 65th session of the UN General Assembly, stressed Bulgaria's democratization and stabilization role in the Balkan region.

Bulgarian Geopolitical Dreams: European Transport/Transit Corridors

Bulgaria remains far away from realizing its potential to benefit from the geographic location through exploring major European and Eurasian transit routes.

Yet, in April, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia, and Italy attended a conference entitled "Corridor VIII - Bridge between the Adriatic and the Black Sea" throwing their weight behind the project.

In October, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania formally joined the project "Via Carpathia" for creating the shortest transit route from the Baltic to Southeast Europe.

Bulgaria's Deputy Transport Minister Kamen Kichev signed Declaration "Via Carpathia" for the transport route connecting the Baltic states and Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, i.e. the Baltic and the Aegean/Mediterranean.

Bulgaria's Firefighting Diplomacy

In 2010, the Bulgarian state help extinguish raging wildfires in the Moscow region of Russia in August, and in Israel in December, by sending detachments of 100 firefighters, who have generated much gratitude for the Bulgarians on part of the respective nations.

Bulgaria Eager to Naturalize Historic Bulgarian Communities

In 2010, Bulgaria's already former Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov spearheaded efforts to grant Bulgarian citizenship to a rising number of ethnic Bulgarians living abroad – a campaign Dimitrov described as a measure against the demographic crisis. Even though he had to resign for political reasons from his post in December, in August he announced that 17 000 ethnic Bulgarians from Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia and Russia received Bulgarian passports in the previous ten months. In September, Dimitrov paid a visit to Bessarabia, the historic region of today's Moldova and southwest Ukraine, saying 500 Bessarabia Bulgarians are eligible to become Bulgarian citizens.

Bulgaria Unyielding in Helping Afghanistan to Rebuild

Bulgaria is seeking ways to boost its efforts to help Afghanistan achieve stability, Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov declared numerous times in 2010.

For details see The Bulgaria 2010 Review: Defense

Bulgaria Asks for Canadian Visa Waiver

In July, Bulgaria's Minister of Economy and Energy, Traicho Traikov, asked for the lifting of the visa regime for Bulgarians traveling to Canada. Traikov raised the issue during an official meeting with the Canadian Minister of International Trade, Peter Van Loan, in Sofia. The Bulgarian Minister pointed out that Bulgaria is among the only three EU Member States, whose citizens need visas to enter Canada. Canada's government dropped the visa requirement for citizens of Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and Hungary in March 2008.

Bulgarians Get Visa-Free Travel to Taiwan

In November, Taiwan dropped visa requirements for Bulgarian citizens as the EU moved to lift visas for Taiwan.

Bulgaria Foreign Minister: EU Grows More Interested in Black Sea Region

The EU is increasingly interested in the Black Sea region, stated Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov in the opening address to the 22nd Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) in Sofia in May.  Bulgaria assumed the rotating presidency of the BSEC on January 1, 2010, and it May it passed it formally to Greece, which will chair the organization in the second half of 2010. In his opening statement, Minister Mladenov underscored the fact the the dialogue between the EU and the BSEC has intensified during the Bulgarian presidency.

He pointed out that EU's Black Sea Synergy and the Eastern Partnership Program are the two most important initiatives of the Union for supporting the stability and development of the Black Sea Region.

BSEC covers a geography encompassing the territories of the Black Sea littoral States, the Balkans and the Caucasus with an area of nearly 20 million square kilometers, a population of 350 million with a foreign trade capacity of over USD 300 B annually. After the Persian Gulf region, it is the second-largest source of oil and natural gas along with its rich proven reserves of minerals and metals, and is becoming Europe's major transport and energy transfer corridor.

Ecumenical Patriarch Extends Accolades to Bulgarian PM

The visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, to Bulgaria in May was hailed as a way for the cabinet to show Christians Orthodox how much those leading the country value the Orthodox Church.

Bulgaria Invited to Import Bangladesh Workers

In May, the President of Bangladesh Zillur Rahman accepted the letter of credentials of the new Bulgarian Ambassador to the country, Borislav Kostov, based in New Delhi, India, andinvited Bulgaria to consider options for hiring migrant workers from Bangladesh.

Venezuela Opens Monument of Simon Bolivar in Bulgaria's Sofia

In April, a monument of Latin American Liberator, Simon Bolivar, was inaugurated in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on the occasion of 200 years of Venezuela's independence from Spain.

Stranded Bulgarian Commandos Escape Niger Coup on Belgian Plane

In February, ten Bulgarian officers from the special police unit for combating terrorism have left the Niger capital Niamey on a Belgian plane after being trapped in Niger coup d'etat. Bulgarian and Belgian special police officers, were trapped for 24 hours in a hotel in Niamey. The policemen made a transitional landing in Niger on their way to repatriate foreign applicants for refuge, who have been turned down by the Belgian authorities. The operation was carried out by the Belgian services and with the cooperation of their Bulgarian colleagues.

Bulgaria's UNESCO Head Bokova, EU Commissioner Georgieva Come Together to Help Haiti

In February, the two Bulgarians with highest international ranks, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva, met in Brussels to discuss relief for Haiti after the island nation was struck by a devastating earthquake earlier. Bokova and Georgieva's talks focused on the international aid for Haiti in the fields of education and culture.

Bulgaria's Diplomatic Anniversaries in 2010

Bulgaria and Spain celebrated 100 years of diplomatic relations.

Bulgaria and Greece celebrated 130 years of diplomatic relations.

Bulgaria and South Korea celebrated 20 years of diplomatic relations. 

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