1

Will Bulgaria be the next testing ground in the escalating confrontation between Putin’s Russia and the West—and why should you care?

The answer may have something to do with gas.

Follow the Pipelines

“If the Russians get their way in Ukraine, we will be the next country they will turn their attention to,” said Evgeniy Dainov, a political science and sociology professor at New Bulgarian University in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital.

He is a staunch critic of the Kremlin who nevertheless refuses to support a Western initiative to wean Bulgaria off Russian energy by letting big American companies such as Chevron “frack” in its most fertile land.

Just like Crimea and the Donbass region of Ukraine, where clashes are currently taking place, Bulgaria has considerable shale gas reserves—and these reserves are near the heart of the East-West dispute.

A Russian Trojan Horse?

Bulgaria was once the Soviet Union’s most loyal ally—now it’s a member of the European Union and NATO but it continues to have close economic and cultural ties with Russia. So much so, in fact, that some Europeans worry that having Bulgaria in their midst will prove to be a “Trojan horse” from Russia.

The Bulgarians—along with the rest of Europe, and the West—are nervous about what they view as Russia’s intensifying expansionism: Kremlin influence inevitably follows direct investments and business deals with Russian entities. These can quickly morph into channels of political pressure—as in the 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, when the Russians cut off the gas to 16 European Union countries.

Click on Picture to Enlarge

Those Who Can Be Intimidated

A senior fellow and head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Bulgarian office, Dimitar Bechev explained to WhoWhatWhy his view on how Russia wields its power:

“The Russian regime has a very cynical attitude and divides people into two categories: those who can be intimidated and those who can be bought.”

Those who can be intimidated would include the Bulgarians, for many reasons. One reason: they depend on Russia for 90 percent of their natural gas, and they saw what happened during the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute (see map above).

3

Those Who Can Be Bought

There seems to be no limit to those who can be bought. Though Russia complains about “Nazis” in Ukraine, it has been funding extreme-right movements around Europe, which helps explain why the main ultranationalist party in Bulgaria just threatened to bring down the Sofia government if it approves sanctions against Russia.

“It is obvious that Russia is co-opting people and buying influence—these methods are much more visible in the former Soviet countries, but are also being implemented throughout the Balkans, in Bulgaria as well as in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and elsewhere,” Bechev said.

Russian money has helped produce an odd-fellows alliance between the far right and the left in Bulgaria—though in the case of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which controls the current coalition government and is also widely perceived as a conduit of Russian influence, there is more than money involved. It is the successor of the former Communist Party, whose graying constituency remembers fondly the old regime.

Western Interference Not Welcome Either

However, it’s not just financial self-interest or a kind of institutional nostalgia that leads Bulgarians to be suspicious of the West and its own brand of neo-liberal expansionist policies. Many Bulgarians have bitter personal memories of Western interference in their affairs in the post-Communist era. Indeed, Western-supported “economic liberalization” focused on the fire sale of state-owned industries contributed to the country’s financial ruin in the 1990s. As an editor for Anthropology News observed:

“Thugs were everywhere. In almost every nice restaurant I visited, there were thick-necked former wrestlers with handguns shoved into the backs of their pants, bodyguards of the new superrich. Rapid economic liberalization created economic growth, but this wealth was concentrated in the hands of a new domestic pack of oligarchs. Western investors had no problem doing business with these robber barons, people who did not innovate or produce, but who bribed and stole their way to wealth. Government regulators were happy to sell off state assets at reduced prices as long as they were given their generous slice of the spoils.”

Then, once the failure of the precipitous “economic liberalization” was clear, the IMF came in 1997 and imposed fiscal austerity on the country—in effect, punishing ordinary Bulgarians for the economic collapse brought on by the previous Western-imposed policy. “Fiscal austerity” involved cutting budget deficits through reduced government spending, which meant, among other things, lower incomes for Bulgarian workers.

“Bulgaria provides stark evidence that an economic strategy based on low wages and labour market flexibility will fail,” the International Trade Union Confederation wrote in a prescient report in 2012. “For more than a decade Bulgaria has been encouraged to pursue such a strategy by both the IMF and the European Union…. The Bulgaria record demonstrates that the draconian labour market reforms being forced on workers in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and other peripheral countries in Europe are misplaced.”

Just a year after the report was published, the failure of this second Western-imposed policy had resulted in daily protest marches in front of Parliament. Sociologists from the Sofia-based polling agency Alpha Research concluded in a report that “Bulgarian society is sliding down the spiral of institutional and political collapse.”

If parts of this story sounds similar to Ukraine’s, it is hardly a coincidence. When Ukraine, mired in financial trouble, applied to the IMF for financial aid last year, the IMF demanded painful austerity reforms, among them an end to fuel subsidies to Ukrainian families. The Ukrainian government refused and turned to Russia, which offered $15 billion with foreign policy strings attached but no demands that would hurt the average Ukrainian. The rest is history. (It bears noting that the new revolutionary government finally forced the subsidy cut through last month.)

It’s no surprise, then, that at a recent pro-Ukraine demonstration in Bulgaria, few people viewed things as black and white. One demonstrator articulated his nuanced frustration this way: “I am here to protest the interference of all foreign powers in Bulgaria, as well as in Ukraine.”

IMAGE: Cartoon

IMAGE: Europe Starved of Gas

IMAGE: Bulgaria

[box] WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on us. Can we count on you? What we do is only possible with your support.

Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.[/box]

0 0 votes
Article Rating
12 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
esabi
esabi
7 years ago

I suggest that the author read articles by Pepe Escobar and/or the Vineyard Saker in order to better understand Russia’s objectives re: Ukraine, Bulgaria, and US. The bottom line: Russia is working with the BRICS countries to trade in currencies other than USD (which is their right to do), and the US feels very threatened by that, so they create a false PR campaign and spread lies like “Russia invaded Ukraine!” “Russia is going to invade Bulgaria!” “Russian Separatists were behind the shooting of the Malaysian Airliner!” etc etc.

When the US accuses Russia of something horrific, I just replace the word “Russia” with “The United States,” and you get a pretty good idea of what is actually going on….

AlenLemone
AlenLemone
7 years ago

“The Bulgarians—along with the rest of Europe, and the West—are nervous about what they view as Russia’s intensifying expansionism”

Are we supposed to take that for granted?
Care to share some info on just how many Bulgarians support the current EU policies (which are obviously master-minded in Washington btw)? A poll perhaps? NO?! Nothing of the sort? Thought not! You could (just for the sake of objectivity) state that it is your personal opinion, as I believe you don’t speak for all Bulgarians. This way it sounds like…well mere propaganda, to be honest.

Furthermore:
“It is obvious that Russia is co-opting people and buying influence—these methods are much more visible in the former Soviet countries, but are also being implemented throughout the Balkans, in Bulgaria as well as in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and elsewhere,” Bechev said.

So, I’m guessing Macedonia is excluded by these evil, evil Russkies?! Why is that so? They are also a Slavic nation, write in Cyrillic, and are mostly Orthodox Christian. Why aren’t they too a part of this evil Russian plan?

BTW:
“There seems to be no limit to those who can be bought.”
Evident by the person who authored this article it seems…

G8one
G8one
7 years ago

Finally, somebody is telling it as it is but it may be too late to reverse what has been done. Bulgaria has become a third world country that would depend on the rest of Europe for help.

Jeff Grotke
Jeff Grotke
7 years ago

Russ, the thing that I want to know is whether or not the ouster of the Ukrainian government was a CIA action, or was it a genuine movement of Ukrainians? If this was a typical CIA thing, they have also typically involved us in supporting right wing fascists and giving them power. In that case Putin is right to intervene and restore the status quo.

Dave J
Dave J
7 years ago

Putin is a true predator and will attack the weakest in the herd. Golden Dawn will get stronger and Greece is actually the next Russian/EU flashpoint. And Putin could easily win that battle…by eliminating Greek debt and offering them cheap energy.

T Ossman
T Ossman
7 years ago

Syria May yet be the Next US-Russia Flashpoint:

Youtube leak exposes Turkey’s False Flag Operation to Start a War with Syria
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBk0HGfI_wM

The BBC (and the rest of the sock puppets ) did some damage control: the leaked tape just exposes Turkish officials “discussing Syria”

Turkey shut down YouTube and Twitter last month

TOssman
TOssman
7 years ago

Syria May yet be the Next US-Russia Flashpoint:

Youtube leak exposes Turkey’s False Flag Operation involving al Qaeda directed at Syria leaked:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBk0HGfI_wM

The BBC (and the rest of the sock puppets ) do some damage control: the leaked tape just exposes Turkish officials “discussing Syria”

Turkey shut down YouTube and Twitter last month

Alexander British
Alexander British
7 years ago

Most people in Britain cannot understand why any country would want to join, or remain part of, the EU.
For years, all polls state that most Brits want our Country out of the EU.

We have millions of unemployed and a £1.3 trillion public debt. This debt has increased by 80% since May 2010 when the current Coalition entered Parliament. The official figure for private debts is also around £1.3 trillion, although in reality it is much higher.

My view is, Bulgaria would do well to quit the European Union today.
To stay in means sheer bankruptcy and prolonged suffering.

Samantha
Samantha
7 years ago

This article seems out of place on WhoWhaWhy.com. I hope the author is not a staff member. He seems to have been overly influenced by the MainStreamMedia’s fabricated narrative on Ukraine. RT’s Abby Martin fell victim to the brainwashing, but I hoped for more careful analysis from WhoWhatWhy.com.
Why is “senior fellow and head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Bulgarian office, Dimitar Bechev” allowed to frame Russia’s actions as either intimidation or bribery? Why are his unproven assertions used as the basis for much of the article? NATO and the US are the ones trying to intimidate by making threats upon threats, and Nuland boasted about spending $5 BILLION on Ukraine.
It also seems odd to speak breathlessly of Bulgaria as the next crisis before the situation in Ukraine has been properly researched and reported.

Stefan Tsarev
Stefan Tsarev
7 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

I am a Bulgarian and I am old enough to see what actually happened in 1997. My family had nearly $10,000 saved in the bank for more than 20 years which, however, were in levs and turned into pennies over a couple of months. Before that the conversion of lev/dollar was 1.19/1, and after that it was 3000/1. Do the math.
This article is very well-written and explains what the situation really is. You will not hear this from newspapers and news, because no one wants to say how the USA and the EU indirectly destroyed an entire country’s economy by mistrusting a bunch of oligarchs who by the way remain unpunished for 25 years. Truth is that the Bulgaria politicians have played a “double-agent” game with both USA/EU and Russia, which at the end will end with the turning of both sides’ backs on us. Also, the EU promised 11 billion Euros of help for Ukraine, which never came true. Since 2007 the salaries in Bulgaria remain pretty much under the line of poverty. Why? Because the prices raised in times since then. Bulgaria has amazing potential for development, but the continuous robbing from the government and no support from the EU put the country in agony. Something must be changed.

Rene Zuloaga
Rene Zuloaga
7 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

Samantha, you should know by now that BOTH the US and Russia are good at propaganda and subterfuge. Thinking either side is innocent in this current conflict is naive at best.

Ladislav
Ladislav
7 years ago

If western countries helped to build Ukrainian and Bulgarian economies .instead of robbing them ,population of those countries wouldn’t want anything to do with Russia.

Guest
Guest
7 years ago

The post continues the pro Zionist pro Neocon narrative of this site. The Neocons have pumped five Billion dollars into destabilzing the Ukraine as confirmed by Victoria Nuland. They have aligned with Neo Nazi groups Right Sector and Svoboda to achieve this undemocratic coup and install a Junta style government. It’s delusional to think the Neocons and NATO have the interests of the Ukraine at heart. Look to Iraq, Aghanistan et al for proof of integrity.

Subscribe to the Daily WhoWhatWhy

Relevant, in-depth journalism delivered to you.
Name(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.