It was April 2015. The weather was shitty, but it's always like that at that time of the year in Donetsk - misty, rainy and muddy. We were standing with a couple of local militiamen and a militia girl on Saur-mogila, or Savur-Mohyla, as it is known in Ukraine. The hill, 5 km from the Russian border, saw one of the fiercest battles between the Soviets and the Nazis in the WWII and had a monument in commemoration.
Or what was left of it. During the Donbas fighting in 2014, the hill changed hands a couple of times and the artillery fire destroyed the monument. Standing there, in this mist, with rubble and rifles everywhere and people in camouflage, it felt like the Second World War (or Velikaya Otechestvenaya in Russia) had never truly left this place.
Now, seven years later, with tanks rolling toward the same hills, air-bombers flying above and Europe witnessing perhaps what could turn out to be the most brazen military invasion since 1939 - not discounting the Soviet takeover of Hungary in 1956 and also its crushing of the so-called Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968 - it's no longer a deja-vu moment. Full-blown war has returned to the European continent, 30 years after Yugoslavia and more than 70 years after Hitler.
They say wars are started by accidents and miscalculations, but this was planned a long time ago. Back in 2008, when Russian tanks were rolling over the Caucus hills, I wrote that Georgia would be the first of many victims, if Europe kept silent. Russian rulers were angry and bitter and the US foolish rush into the Iraq war had given them all the pretext they needed. Hard power was not gone, it had simply been covered with a nice-looking veil. And while not very good at soft power play, Russia was always brilliant when it came to boots on the ground.
2014 and the taking of Crimea was the second blow. Statistics showed that Russia has propped up its foreign reserves from that moment on. The disinformation troops started sawing divisions in Europe somewhere after the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. Slowly, but surely, the momentum was building.
Yet no one really believed it would come to this.
Take Bulgaria. We got burned (or frozen) in 2009, in the first gas-war between Kiev and Moscow, when supply was turned off. Did we learn? Did we build pipelines to other places to ensure more than one option? No.
But did we at least try to find some independence? Also no.
The ex-Prime minister Borrisov had not only beaten a path to the Kremlin to ask for favors, he managed to build the new Russian pipeline - TurkStream - through the Bulgarian territory in just a year, while it took him more than 12 years to finish the interconnector to Greece. What's more, he built it at our expense, with money borrowed from the Russians. We are, at least partially, responsible for what's happening in Ukraine now. Because we untied Putin's hands to deliver gas to Europe while rolling tanks in the neighboring country.
Of course, we're far from alone in this. The Germans, the Italians, the Hungarians, and even the posh and always punctual Brits were welcoming Russian money and influence while fully aware that Putin's regime beats, imprisons and kills opponents, silences the media and plans military operations in foreign countries. At least half of the people I saw in Donbas militia then were Chechens, part of Kadyrov's army. Russian military intelligence even tried to kill a Bulgarian citizen on Bulgarian soil and we kept silent about it.
So, to sum it up, the road to Kiev was long. It didn't happen overnight. And unfortunately, it won't end fast either. Wars have a nasty habit of sticking around, when they are invited in. Not to even mention the fact that they inspire copycats - the way Kosovo and Iraq inspired Russia, Ukraine might inspire China.
To try to end this on a more upbeat note: don't worry too much about Bulgaria. While we fucked up a lot of things, we did make what seems the safest choice in the current climate - being a member of NATO. Unless the world goes completely mad, no foreign ships will land on the Black Sea beaches of Varna and Burgas. We might even benefit (alas) from this - judging from 2014, waves of people are going to leave and will look for a new place to settle.
1. Politics this week:Bulgaria: Divided in unity
Our politicians could not, even on a momentous day like Thursday, deliver a united response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On one side, we had Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and the President making joint statements condemning the all-out attack. President Radev said that "a full-scale conventional operation of the Russian Federation with all types of forces is underway, with critical infrastructure and important military sites across Ukraine under attack. This is absolutely unacceptable - dropping bombs and shooting missiles over a sovereign state in the Europe of the 21st century."
Then we had Defense Minister Stefan Yanev, who continues to act as arch appeaser at the worst possible moments. He told journalists that "the use of the word 'war' is overblown as it is a limited military operation". While this is typical military-speak (he is a general, after all) Yanev was virtually reading from Russia's playbook to justify the invasion.
A fracture in the coalition
This half-hearted attitude manifested itself in Parliament as well. It took MPs almost seven hours to agree on a semi-strong position condemning the invasion, and even that they could hardly consent to. Two parties - the oppositional Vazrazhdane and the coalition partner BSP - bailed out from backing the declaration as a whole.
Although both parties, alongside all other MPs, condemned the Russian aggression, they refused to vote in favor of sanctions against Moscow. Vazrazhdane leader Kostadin Kostadinov said that, if they backed them, Sofia "would be taking sides" in the conflict and might suffer the consequences of the sanctions, while the BSP reaffirmed its "traditional" anti-sanctions position, as party speaker Alexander Simov claimed.
Despite the attempts by the two parties to sabotage the process, the declaration was approved in full by 16:00. This is what it consists of:
- Strongly condemns the flagrant violation of international law by the Russian Federation and the violation of its territorial integrity through military intervention against Ukraine;
- Supports its EU and NATO partners and allies in discussing a package of measures, including sanctions, to de-escalate the conflict;
- Supports the Bulgarian Government in taking the necessary measures commensurate with the seriousness of the challenges to the international security architecture;
- Supports the Bulgarian Government in considering and offering assistance to Ukraine commensurate with the capabilities of the Bulgarian state;
- Supports the Bulgarian Government in insisting that the protection of the lives and health of civilians in the region be an absolute priority;
- Supports the Bulgarian government in assisting in obtaining immediate assistance for Bulgarian citizens and Bulgarians with Ukrainian citizenship living in Ukraine, including in the event of evacuation needs;
- Expects the Bulgarian government to propose a plan to deal with the consequences of hostilities;
- Expects the Russian Federation to immediately cease hostilities and return to full compliance with international law.
Politically inept, but surprisingly adequate in practice
Both the President and the Prime Minister said that they are expecting refugees to start coming from Ukraine - Bulgarians living there, people with Bulgarian consciousness (supposedly about 200,000 of them live in the country) and Ukrainians - and said they will prepare to evacuate them with buses and try to house them in hotels.
Also, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the diplomats of the countries of the Eastern bloc of the Alliance - including Bulgaria - have requested a meeting on Article 4, which ought to provoke a joint consultation when a country believes its territory, political independence or security is under threat.
At the same time, Sofia is not going as far as Latvia or Czechia, who announced they are suspending issuing visas to Russians.
In other news (yes, there is still such): Green Certificates are out
Bulgaria is finally emerging from the Covid-19 Omicron wave and the government plans to phase out green certificates for domestic use, and from 20 March they will only be used when traveling abroad. This was announced by Mr Petkov on 21 February and is, practically, in force even now, as restaurants and bars have already ceased (formally) requesting for certificates - something most did not bother to do throughout the last six months, anyway.
"But you didn't have to cut me off"
A doctored image that removed N. Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski from a joint picture between him and his Bulgairan counterpart alongside US State Secretary Anthony Blinken caused a storm in a teacup earlier this week. The three met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, but someone in Mr Petkov's PR team decided to cut out the Macedonian when posting the picture on social media.
The problem? Mr. Kovachevski had already posted the full image.
2. Economy:Still no budget
Because you know, war. The Parliament was supposed to debate the budget on Thursday, but tanks in Ukraine proved a diversion.
We forgot about the money
Bulgaria also failed to receive funding from the Modernization Fund. It is a special funding program to support 10 lower-income EU Member States in their transition to climate neutrality by helping to modernize their energy systems and improve energy efficiency. We simply forgot, or we didn't care?
4.5% - the unemployment rate In the fourth quarter of 2021. The employment rate of people aged 20 - 64 was 73.6%, reported the National Statistical Institute.
3400 levs is the maximum monthly wage for which mandatory social security contributions are due. Parliament decided to increase it on Wednesday as it was 3000 levs. The changes will take effect from 1st of April.
13% - More bankruptcies were recorded last year compared to 2020, reveals a report from the Registry Agency.
The company behind the online casino brand Palms Bet managed to raise 16 million levs from the stock exchange. The company sold 80% of the originally planned 400 000 new shares and reached a capitalization of over 200 million levs.
The chip-making company, based in Boston and Plovdiv, already has sold its first 30 electric minivans, which it is producing in Plovidv's factory. The company says it plans to produce 500 this year and invest another 10 million euro to boost capacity. The minivans are useful for city deliveries and supply chain issues in cities.
4. Energy:Lost of coal power sold
In just one day, TPP Maritza East 2 sold electricity worth a total of 109 million levs. In two separate auctions on Tuesday, the company sold over 300,000 mWh. One of the explanations for the change in the attitudes of market participants is the situation in Ukraine.
- NATO will convene a virtual summit today after the Russian military closed in on Kyiv overnight. The West has so far responded with a new round of sanctions aimed at slowing down Russia's economy, although there was no unanimity on excluding Russia from the SWIFT payment system. EU leaders announced the "hardest package of sanctions" during the late hours of the night covering the financial sector and key technologies. Freezing of bank assets, additional measures related to trade, energy and transport of Russia were also adopted at the extraordinary summit in Brussels. Visa rules for diplomats are being tightened and more individuals are being sanctioned.
- The European financial sanctions are closely coordinated with the United States and the United Kingdom and are aimed at restricting Russia's access to international markets and halting Russia's financial flows to the EU.
Watch out for:People:
Kostadin Kostadinov - currently the most openly pro-Russian politician on the Bulgarian scene just "won" the abolition of Green Certificates, and is likely to focus exclusively on his admiration for Moscow from now on, looking for topics to instigate discontent.
PlaceSofia, Plovdiv, Ruse, Burgas, and Stara Zagora
The biggest Bulgarian cities appeared among the top 10 entrants in the European Cities and Regions of the Future (2022/2023) report of the Financial Times which looks at the potential for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). They are included in different categories.