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Bulgaria’s Trinity of Alliances

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Just two decades ago, Bulgaria’s politicians praised it as the Soviet Union’s closest ally and American commentators condemned it as a slavish communist satellite. Now, the Cold War era of poisoned umbrella assassinations is over and pragmatism is the common denominator of foreign policy. Bulgaria, a transitioning country, places its faith in a trinity of alliances, in order to secure the country’s energy, defense, and socio-economic needs.


A few days ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Bulgaria on his last diplomatic visit as head of the Russian state. Some were perplexed as to why this important politician had chosen Bulgaria as his destination. There was an obvious explanation: the Russian president had come at the invitation of the Bulgarian president to celebrate “The Year of Russia” and the 130th anniversary of the Russo-Turkish War, which liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.
At the National Palace of Culture, the largest congress hall in Southeastern Europe, the Bulgarian president proclaimed: “130 years after the San-Stefano peace treaty, the statesmen of Bulgaria and Russia are working towards the foundation of new relations, based upon equity of rights, mutual trust, and pragmatism in the European sense of the word.”
He added that the contemporary dynamic between the two countries could be understood “only if we comprehend the profound logic of our spiritual relations through the centuries.” However, the accent of the speech was not on the common historical or cultural past – rather, the Bulgarian president talked at length about an economic policy, based upon pragmatism. He urged Bulgarian businesses not to expect privileged entry onto the Russian market, as had been the case during the Cold War.
Putin underscored the spiritual connections between the two peoples and stated that Russians “respect Bulgaria’s choices in respect to national security and the solution of important questions linked to the development of the country.” In less euphemistic words, the Russian president expressed his respect for Bulgaria’s joining of NATO (a U.S.-led military alliance) and the European Union.
It was not difficult to sense the Russian uneasiness with either of those choices. America’s seeming military base encirclement of Russia and its “missile shield” program, of which Bulgaria might become a member, has concerned many Russian strategists. The European Union, though friendly, has had a strained relationship with Russia over criticisms of Putin’s non-democratic policies and the Ukraine elections, to name a few.
Yet, good business is a fine incentive for overlooking such uneasiness. Hours after he landed in Sofia, Vladimir Putin and the Bulgarian president signed an important agreement, which many had thought unlikely. The contract allowed Russia to build an oil and gas pipeline through Bulgaria, that would meet Europe’s growing energy needs. The construction of Bulgaria’s second nuclear power station and the recycling of nuclear fuel was also an important achievement. The deal was crafted behind closed doors, though the Bulgarian president and the premier stated that the national interests were upheld and that Bulgaria would have a 50% equal share in the joint company that would administer the projects. It is projected that Russia will invest over 5.5 billion euros in the country.
Most members of Bulgaria’s parliament praised the economic treaty, vowing that it would bring prosperity to Bulgaria through transit taxes and approved Bulgaria’s sensible economic approach. Others criticized the secrecy behind the deal and demanded that Parliament have access to the contract. A few, as can be expected in any democracy, condemned the deal as a national catastrophe that would allow Russia to dominate Bulgaria economically and threaten the European Union, with Bulgaria acting as a Trojan horse for Russian energy policy.
To these critics, the Bulgarian president responded: “The Trojan horse phrase makes no sense, I can even say this is a nihilistic statement. Europe is no Troja. Europe is not under a siege, it is open.” The president’s emphasized that Europe already enjoyed a parallel Russian-German pipeline. He added that major European governments supported the deal and that economic pragmatism was the guiding policy. He even turned the construction of U.S. military bases into an advantage for Russia and the region: “It will be in everybody’s interest to protect the gas pipelines… The presence of US military bases and Russian pipelines on Bulgarian territory are additional guarantees.”
The Bulgarian president’s attitude is not surprising. The Cold War era is over and now Bulgaria pursues a trinity of alliances that are complicated due to the country’s strategic location. It seems that Bulgaria supports Russia in terms of energy policy, the United States and NATO for defense, and the European Union for its foreign policy and domestic development. Each member of this trinity is a respective leader in their field and Bulgaria hopes to benefit from their respective expertise.
Sources:
“Bulgarian President: Package of Deals with Russia Huge Success”
“Bulgarians Rally against Oil Pipeline ahead of Referendum”

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