Pro-Russian Socialists threaten to quit the coalition government after PM Kiril Petkov’s visit to Kyiv, where he assured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Bulgaria’s support.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (R) and Prime Minister of Bulgaria Kiril Petkov (L) shake hands as they attend a meeting in Kyiv, April 28, 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO
Bulgarian Socialist Party leader and Minister of Economy Kornelia Ninova on Friday said that if Bulgaria sends military help to Ukraine, her pro-Russian party will quit the broad coalition government.
Her statement comes a day after Prime Minister and “We Continue the Change” co-leader Kiril Petkov met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and agreed that Bulgaria will help repair Ukraine’s heavy military equipment and position the coastal city of Varna as a hub for Ukraine’s grain production.
“I want to return to Ukraine to celebrate Ukraine’s victory and its prompt entry into the European family”, Petkov said in Kyiv on Thursday, changing his rhetoric from trying to find a consensus within the government on the Ukraine war to openly supporting Ukraine, even if that risks the coalition’s stability.
Bulgaria’s response to the war has been more muted than in most countries in the EU: two of the coalition parties, “We Continue the Change” and Democratic Bulgaria, support sending military aid, and “There’s Such a People”, while initially neutral, has lately have also endorsed the idea.
However, the Bulgarian Socialist Party is firmly against involvement in the war. So far, Bulgaria has only sent Ukraine humanitarian aid, helmets and bulletproof vests. Sending military aid is expected to be voted on in the parliament next week.
Meanwhile, there’s been growing reports of Bulgaria contributing to the Ukrainian army from the start, via sales of weapons through third countries, and under the watch of the politician who most opposes military aid – Ninova. She has denied the claims.
The Socialists are also against Bulgaria cutting ties with Russian energy giant Gazprom because of Russia’s demand that all payments now be made in rubles, a move which on Wednesday Petkov described as “blackmail” and Finance Minister Assen Vassilev as an “economic war”.
This leaves Bulgaria in a complicated situation. Nearly 90 per cent of the country’s gas supply comes from Russia. Bulgaria expects to increase gas deliveries from Azerbaijan via the interconnector with Greece ready to be launched in summer.
In an interview with Sky News on April 27 Vassilev appeared adamant that Bulgaria can carry on without Russian gas. Asked for how long, Vassilev responded: “Forever.”
The latest development also draw a divide between Petkov and Vassilev and President Rumen Radev, who appointed the two as interim ministers and supported their rise as politicians.
In recent days, Radev has criticized plans to send ammunition to Ukraine and the sudden divorce with Gazprom. “Radev’s position that by giving weapons, we somehow advance the conflict, is a disgrace as it lies on the false presumption that Russia will win the war,” Vassilev stated on April 27.
The coalition assumed power in December last year with ambitions to revise the policies of former PM and GERB leader Boyko Borissov and initiate a justice reform, but has been sidetracked by internal conflicts, which some fear will lead to a new political logjam later in 2022.
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