I'm pretty sure you were all glued to your telephones last Saturday, following in the steps of Evgeniy Prigozhin, as he was making his way to Moscow. I was too, ignoring the lovely waters of the Black Sea to read about the blockaded roads between Rostov and Kremlin. By the time the first Russian civil war in a century ended in less than 24 hours, I was left with far more questions than answers.
One of those questions leads directly to Bulgaria. I found out about Prigozhin when I first investigated the role of Russia in the disinformation campaigns in Europe and Bulgaria back in 2015. He was, at the time, running the biggest farms for online trolls which would subsequently affect the German, French and US elections, as well as Brexit. They were, and still are, spewing out an endless stream of manipulations, distortions and half-truths in Central and Eastern Europe to infiltrate the public debate and make it ungovernable.
What, I wondered this week, will happen to those farms now?
Prigozhin will not be trusted to run them (I wouldn't bet he'd be alive in a couple of months, if we know anything about the Putin regime). Someone else will have to take over the operations, the same with Wagner.
And then I figured out Putin no longer needs them. The wheel has been set in motion and it will keep on turning.
Take Bulgaria's Vazrazhdane (Revival) base. I am following 2 of the Telegram groups that coordinate efforts like the Referendum for peace - the call to halt Bulgaria's help for Ukraine. They got very confused and silent last Saturday but immediately found ways to circumvent that: Prigozhin had been bought, Putin would still end up on top. Yes, some of the links shared there were obviously Russian attempts to mitigate the reality, or divert attention, but for the most part, people there were producing their own content, to match their own viewpoints and perceptions.
Which brings me to the larger question: will Vazrazhdane suffer from what happens in Russia? The pro-Russian party has been growing steadily in the polls and it has been using every opportunity to boost popularity: COVID-19, Russia's war in Ukraine, inflation, the eurozone, the gender debate. They benefited heavily from the divisions surrounding the conflict and a sudden end to the war will surely dent their base.
But a sudden end is not in sight, so they will keep playing this card. And if needs be, they will just jump to another horse. After years of conspiracies and sudden reality-distortions like the pandemic, there is a not-insignificant part of the population which feeds itself on ever-stranger stories and believes that the political cabal lies.
It's not the largest part - even recent events haven't managed to propel Vazrazhdane beyond third place, with around 15% and mind you - this is peak period for them. But they will try every trick in the book to maximize their vote before the local elections. This means they will actively seek confrontation wherever they can, as they did in the past few weeks: N.Macedonia, eurozone and of course, Ukraine.
Which is why they need to be confronted carefully by other politicians. Not with insults or physical violence, in any case. But Kostadinov is a very good speaker and he needs to be met with the same. Their theories are mostly fantasies and should be discounted publicly as such.
Barring that, there are a few things which might really work: trying to shuffle under the desk the euro-referendum or deploying other gimmicks is not one of them. This will only prove that other parties are afraid and Kostadinov will benefit. Maybe speak about the euro more and avoid the Ukraine topic for a while is a good advice. Not every public conversation needs to be about tanks.
But those things will probably not happen. So here's my bet: Vazrazhdane will make it big in the local government everywhere which will eventually bring them crashing down, because it will be the first time they need to execute power. That's not a good outlook for the next 4 years of city governance.
This newsletter is helped byMartin Dimitrov
POLITICS THIS WEEKThe new face in town: Vassil Terziev
The formal introduction of tech entrepreneur and educational leader Vassil Terziev as candidate for the Sofia mayoral position in the upcoming local elections was a ray of good news for the embattled coalition of We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria. They managed to achieve an astonishing political compromise between several highly ambitious parties and movements like Save Sofia and present a unified front against GERB, which has held the capital for almost 18 years.
Who's your (grand)daddy?
This however, didn't go without the usual barrage of filth from the opponents and a bit of friendly fire. How could one of Bulgaria's top young entrepreneurs and philanthropists be undermined? You strike at his family's past, which turned out to be embroiled with Bulgaria's totalitarian institutions. Mr Terziev's granddad (and father) were high-ranking officers in the counterintelligence unit of Bulgaria's secret police during Communism. And while it is indisputable that he is a self-made IT entrepreneur, the "original sins" sprung up exactly as he was preparing his mayoral bid.
Don't call it a coalition.
WCC-DB had been trying their best to keep up the appearance of not being in a coalition government with GERB, but they have begun realizing how easy it is for them to be sidelined by the "a la carte" majorities that the party of Mr Borissov is able to muster in Parliament with all willing factions - from MRF to Vazrazhdane.
The situation escalated at the end of last week when WCC-DB demanded GERB stick to reform commitments and invited them to a leadership meeting to resolve the situation. It was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon with the idea that the two formations would reach an agreement on several important issues. It didn't go particularly well: Borissov said his time was wasted. And sources from GERB told "Capital" that "whichever way you look at it, it's a coalition, and we want it on paper".
.although it might look like one
WCC-DB abstained silently, when Boyko Borissov's immunity was put up for a vote in the Parliament. Now, the topic of his immunity will go to the special parliamentary committee, which will - as the infamous leaked WCC forum discussed - go on to "launder" his reputation. As was expected, this was the biggest thorn in the heel of the reformers. And it's definitely not over yet.
Tagarev's next tranche of weapons for Ukraine
In the morning of 27 June Defense Minister Todor Tagarev confirmed that Bulgaria will be sending a second package of military aid to Ukraine, and later in the afternoon he gave some more details on the issue. He clarified that the new tranche of weapons "does not include aviation and heavy armored equipment," but that it will be made up of ammunition and combat systems, the service life of which will soon expire, but which are still usable and necessary for the Ukrainian army.
Speaking of which: some more explosions in an arms depotThe arms dealer Emiliyan Gebrev, who famously got poisoned - likely by Russian agents - a few years back, and had his arms depot in Czech republic blown away by GRU, had another one of his weapons depots burst into flames earlier this week. This is not the first time this has happened and, just as before, the police and the prosecution announced they will be investigating possible sabotage attempts by foreign agents.
ECONOMYWhat the hell is going on with the euro
The mess we're in with this euro thing gets bigger and bigger. First, we didn't do anything about it for 18 months, missing deadlines to enter next year. Now, there is a call for a referendum to postpone it until 2040 by Vazrazhdane, which the MPs are trying hard to not even notice in Parliament. And now, as it turns out, Bulgaria's government is discussing implementation of the euro unilaterally.
Assen Vassilev confirmed there are talks with the ECB and the Commission on whether Bulgaria can allow firms and citizens to use the euro as official currency, if they want to. This is probably meant as a calming measure for citizens to actually start using the currency, but at this point I'm fairly convinced that chasing the eurozone membership, as well as the Schengen one is merely an image exercise, and I'm not even sure the benefits will outweigh the negative inertia this will create.
Another thing that was promised and won't happen - toll taxes
For the third year in a row, the government promises to raise toll taxes on transport companies and backs down. Even though they are incredibly low, compared to other countries, and were supposed to go up from 1 July, there will now be a committee to discuss the mechanism of doing so with the companies. As someone who sees the way trucks use back roads and destroy them, I'd say there is a fairly clear mechanism: tax 'em.
Levs, or 30 bln. euro will be the Bulgarian external debt in 2025, according to the Ministry of Finance's strategy. Currently it stands at 42 bln.
6 mln.tonsof grains will be produced this year in the country, according to the minister of agriculture Kiril Vatev.
The Oliva group will build a new grain terminal in Varna worth 100 mln.euro. The group, owned by Angel Georgiev, has almost 2 bln. levs of revenues last year and exports sunflower oil and grains. 50 mln.of those will come as a loan from EIB, which already signed the agreement.
ENERGYHow to lose a billion
Back in February, the preliminary results of the Bulgarian Energy Holding showed 1.6 billion levs of profit. This was due to the extremely high prices of energy in 2022 and the fact that most state-owned companies made a rainfall of money. Suddenly, however, the final results show a billion less: under 600 mln.profit.
BEH didn't lose the money, of course - it simply transferred them from one pocket to another, discounting the debts of Bulgargaz. But it had a reason to do so - the new Finance Minister wanted them to transfer the profit back to the budget in order to keep the deficit low. So the Energy lobby (including GERB figures and President men) is fighting Assen Vassilev on this front.
WATCH OUT FOR People
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Wednesday evening that she had chosen the member of the European Court of Auditors, who was GERB's nomination to replace Mariya Gabriel as the next Bulgarian commissioner, over WCC-DB's Daniel Lorer.
Chaos group founder and CEO becomes one of the precious few wealthy Bulgarian entrepreneurs, who want to invest back in the society. He created an education foundation, called Big Orange, which will aim to help modernize the Bulgarian education system. Mitev hasn't given too many details about it yet, so I'm waiting to see more.
The long war over who will succeed Dimitar Radev as governor of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) was reignited this week, as Finance Minister Assen Vassilev announced he is planning to nominate a high-profile expert, who has worked outside of Bulgaria for the post. Stay tuned!
One of my favorite new traditions - the Bulgarian-only celebration of July morning began as a hippy holiday on the Northern seaside. Now it goes mainstream with bars and beaches all over the Black sea introducing all-night parties tonight for those who want to meet the sunshine without their shoes on. Hop on.