Bulgaria - Storms in an Oil Cup and the Big Game
On Tuesday, the Bulgarian cabinet of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, expectedly survived a third no-confidence vote with the help of several renegade MPs and the nationalist Ataka party, despite the latter's laud, recent threats of being in opposition.
The only breaking news there became the second for this term appearance in plenary hall of the leader of the ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS, Ahmed Dogan, elected as Member of the Parliament on the ballot of this same party. Dogan walked in, dressed in white, without any embarrassment and with the solemn face of a person declaring war.
Of course, Dogan's parliamentary visit was short-lived, but nevertheless symbolic of the now openly declared clash between the country's back-seat ruler and the front-seat one. Meanwhile, the media empire of several newspapers and a TV channel, of Delyan Peevski, an MP from Dogan's own party, continues to also openly support the cabinet of the archenemy amidst wide-spread allegations the ethnic Turkish leader is the real owner of Peevski's media outlets.
On the backdrop of this futile political exercise, called no-confidence vote, there is the critical annual monitoring report on Bulgaria's judicial reform, and the fight against corruption and organized crime, published by the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism; bombs are exploding at political parties offices; defendants in yet another high-profile contract-murder case, which left 6 dead bodies, receive not-guilty verdicts 6 years, almost to the date, after the killing spree; WikiLeaks is releasing an avalanche of US diplomatic cables, sent by the American Embassy in Sofia, detrimental for a number of Bulgarian politicians and policies; the body of a young woman strangled in Sofia's central park is stirring public outrage about the work of the police amidst reports of wide-spread police brutality... And the fuel prices are sky-high for the empty pockets of Bulgarian consumers as are many other basic staples.
To everyone's dismay, on July 27th, the Bulgarian Customs Agency, on the order of its Director, Gen. Vanyo Tanov, revoked the fuel distribution license of Lukoil Bulgaria, owner of the only oil refinery in the country, on the grounds it failed to install the mandatory measuring devices by June 26. The move means Lukoil can only trade fuels already outside the refinery.
The news raised many eyebrows as the Lukoil Bulgaria CEO, Valentin Zlatev, is known to be one of Borisov's closest friends. In a heart-felt birthday interview in June, Borisov said he never plays cards or bets with Zlatev because the latter "cheats too much." "Maybe Zlatev really went too far with the cheating?" people in Bulgaria started saying.
Jokes aside, the move triggered heated and controversial reactions along with wild speculations since the usual information blackout is hanging over Bulgaria.
As elections are looming, ratings crumbling, and the openings of 10-km-long highways and of new sports facilities seem insufficient to keep them up, the opposition on the left - the Bulgarian Socialists, labeled the move the next PR attempt of portraying Borisov as arriving on a white horse, while the opposition on the right – the Blue Coalition, lauded the "war on Lukoil's monopoly on the country's fuel market."
There is talk Zlatev and Borisov have reached an agreement and Lukoil will actually benefit from increased fuel prices since there is an upcoming planned closure of the refinery for renovations and the company has already produced enough fuel to make up for it – something both Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov and Zlatev vehemently deny; that Russia is in the game with Lukoil inserting pressure on ousting Zlatev or because the project to build a second Nuclear Power Plant in the Danube town of Belene with Russian participation, where the Lukoil Bulgaria CEO is a consultant for the Russian side, is at stake, or because of other joint energy projects; or that the pressure is coming from the US and the EU...
Once upon a time, a wiretap leaked through the anti-government weekly tabloid Galeria. The tape was made through the so-called Special Surveillance Devices, SRS, and contained a recording of a conversation between Borisov and the Customs Head, Gen. Tanov. The recording, whose authenticity was never unconditionally proven, alleged that the PM provided a cover-up for the owner of the "Ledenika" beer company, Mihail Mihov aka Misho the Beer, by ordering Tanov to immediately pull the tax agents out of the factory after personal complaints of the "Ledenika" boss.
In the light of the current events, Borisov using the Customs to protect a stranger (as he and Mihov both claimed) with a relatively small business and to resolutely go against a long-time friend and a huge monopoly seems, at the least, bizarre.
Obviously, our country's leader could not reform his ways to such extend in half a year. On the other hand-side, clashing with something like Lukoil looks like a battle way beyond the frame of a simple PR action. Seems that such pressure can only come from the outside, from a great power and a big brother. East or West we might never know – WikiLeaks should have made diplomats way more careful...
Having in mind that the conclusion of this oil saga is still pending, the one undeniable fact and the only truth we know so far, is that for once, and at least for the time being, the cabinet is doing the right thing – everyone should be equal before the law, including the almighty Lukoil.
Meanwhile, Misho the Beer has been long forgotten... He suddenly passed away three months after the wiretap scandal, from what has been listed as a heart attack, after checking in a hotel owned by Valentin Zlatev. The Ways of God are Inscrutable.
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