This year Bulgaria celebrates its anniversary - 15 years of NATO membership. As a member of the Alliance and the EU, that is, part of the Western world, Bulgaria at the same time tries not only to not lose, but also to strengthen the threads that connect it with the imaginary East of Russia. About how effective this policy is for a Bulgarian state - in an interview with the President of Bulgaria (2012-2017) by Rosen Plevneliev.
Mr. Plevneliev, this year - 70 years of NATO and 15 years of Bulgaria's membership in the Alliance. How do you assess Bulgaria's participation in the Alliance? Who benefits more - Bulgaria from NATO or NATO from Bulgaria?
To begin with, I would like to say that even after 70 years after its creation, NATO as a defense organization of democratic and progressive states is more than relevant. At that time, NATO was created to protect and deter and, in fact, the latter now plays a very important role. Today, we can observe how the global and regional forces - Russia, Turkey, and other states - are casting doubt on the authority of world institutions and the foundations of international law. With all this authority, NATO remains firm. All states - from the smallest, as the Baltic states, to the largest, as the USA - NATO is perceived as the strongest organization in the world. All of its members are united and have no desire to leave it. Even such factors as Brexit or the policy of the American president, do not question the unity of NATO. On the contrary, there is a steady demand for membership in it.
As for Bulgaria itself, it's hard to say whether it receives more or gives more. At the same time, what we receive from NATO, namely security, is invaluable, because security for the state is above all. Without her, she can not flourish, develop, and progress.
When I was the head of state, Bulgaria did a lot to gain credibility from its NATO partners. We have initiated a number of serious measures and programs, and we hope that they will be implemented, and the Bulgarian army, in turn, will feel effective and ready to act anywhere in the world.
But today support for NATO membership inside Bulgaria is not predominant. Often this membership is questionable ...
Unfortunately, this is the result of misinformation and propaganda. In order to understand the importance of Bulgaria's membership in NATO, you need to know the history of the country. At times when Bulgaria was herself, she was the object of games of great forces and suffered a lot from it. After all, when large forces are playing with states on their periphery, the result for these states is catastrophic. That is why the strategic goal of Bulgaria was to become a member of NATO and the EU in order to never again fall into the category of "periphery" and be the object of someone else's games. And while Bulgaria is in NATO and the EU, it is strong. Any attempts to leave Bulgaria with NATO and the EU will lead to a wave of mass protests in the country and will be stopped at the very beginning.
Do you think that citizens will protest in support of NATO?
I am absolutely convinced that millions of Bulgarians will come out on the streets to protest against any Bulgarian policy or international intervention aimed at Bulgaria's withdrawal from the EU and NATO.
Often in Bulgaria you can hear that a country for NATO is a kind of "Trojan horse." Do you agree with this opinion?
Bulgaria as a "Trojan horse" is Russia's dream expressed by Russian Ambassador to Brussels Volodymyr Chizhov on the eve of Bulgaria's accession to the EU. He then directly said, "Take Bulgaria in the EU and NATO - you will accept a Russian" Trojan horse. " Being Russian or someone else's "Trojan horse" is the worst strategy that Bulgarian politicians could implement. The national interest of Bulgaria has always been to be on an equal footing with other European nations. In today's interpretation, it is membership in the European Union, communication on an equal footing with other European powers, and certainly not aspiration towards the Kazakh steppes.
To date, about 2 million Bulgarian citizens have emigrated from the country. Do you know how many of them went to Russia? No matter what! And all because Russia today has no model that could attract an ordinary person. Therefore, the Bulgarian people are not interested in linking their future with Russia and following its interests, in particular, with regard to the "Trojan horse."
At the same time, today there are many Bulgarian politicians who depend on Russia and work to make Bulgaria become a Russian "Trojan horse." It is a great illusion that Russia will golden Bulgaria or Serbia for being their strategic ally or close friend. Russia illegally annexed the Crimea, and it can not be said that people today live well there, enjoy human rights and freedoms, that there is democracy and prosperity. Russia understands that it has no economic opportunity to golden Bulgaria or Serbia, as well as Crimea. That is why Russia needs a strategy of a "Trojan horse", so that at a minimal cost it is interested in its state completely dependent on itself. Russia has never considered other countries as allies and equal partners in its history, but only as vassals and subordinates. Relations between the countries in the European Union differ radically.
What do you think should be the current priorities of Bulgaria's foreign and domestic policies as a NATO and EU member state?
The first is Bulgaria's strong membership in NATO, rearmament and modernization of the Bulgarian Army, which would make it compatible with the armies of NATO member states. Today, Bulgarian politicians do not comply with the decision of the National Security Advisory Board adopted for my presidency, the essence of which is that each lion (the local currency - "Glavkom"), which is invested in weapons, should go on increasing the compatibility of the Bulgarian army with the armies of partners by NATO. Instead, they continue to invest in old defense systems, which are already 30 years old and more, while realizing that they are throwing money into the wind. Here's an example: Bulgaria paid 600 million levy for military systems for MiG-29 aircraft, with the fact that it is possible to buy 60 million modern compatible three-coordinate radar systems with NATO. Such, for example, are armed with Albania.
Or the same Romania ...
Romania is generally a separate issue. From a military point of view, she is ahead of us in light years now, because she always had a clear geostrategic orientation, which she follows and which nobody in the country doubts. Romania has US bases, there is a missile defense system that, incidentally, protects Bulgaria.
Unlike Romania, Bulgaria's national position is ambiguous and shaped by previous generations of Bulgarian politicians and comes from the words "Always with Germany and never against Russia." I have always been against it and believe that it is contrary to our national interests and has led to two national catastrophes. My position is strong Bulgaria in the strong European Union and NATO.
Bulgaria needs to work to strengthen the revenues earned during the country's EU presidency as a reliable partner and good neighbor for all the countries of the region, as well as the Euro-Atlantic development engine of the Western Balkans.
Today, Bulgaria balances between the West, of which it is part, and Russia, with which it has long-standing relations. How long can such a policy last?
So, based on geographical and historical features, we need to balance, but at the same time, we do not have to be in a cluttered position and do something like: today we buy F-16 aircraft to satisfy the Americans, and tomorrow we will build the Belene NPP to satisfy the Russians. .
I have never followed such a policy, on the contrary, my position as head of state was quite clear: the EU and NATO are our family, we must defend their interests and we can rely on us to solve world problems. All actions aimed at implementing a policy of "we, with the EU, but with Russia" are doomed to failure and lead to disastrous consequences.
I believe that we should not be slaves of outdated formulas of the past, which, after many years, did not bring anything good for Bulgaria. On the contrary, it is this formula "Bulgaria with one foot in Europe, one in the East" has led to all the misfortunes and two national catastrophes. The Bulgarians must understand that the Russian model is not right for an ordinary person, nor for the development of society and state institutions, and that our way - only to the West. In today's Russia there is no democracy, but there is oligarchic capitalism, while the European Union is a symbol of democracy, human rights and freedoms, and a socially responsible market economy. We choose the second one.
I have nothing against Russia and I respect the Russian people with deep respect, but at the same time, I completely disagree with the Russian president, which undermined the foundations of international law in Europe through the illegal annexation of the Crimea. Today, the Kremlin is deliberately destabilizing the states that are on the Russian periphery: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Georgia, which does not control 1 \ 3 of its territory, and with 2014 year - Ukraine. Based on this, I believe that Bulgaria can be safe and prosperous only as a member of NATO and the EU.
I wish Russian people success in reviewing and reforming, and I would even say - the repairs, their social structure in such a way that in Russia, at last, there was a genuine labor democracy and a market economy.
I'll even tell you more. Bulgaria, as a friend of Russia, should help her understand that gas is not an energy weapon designed to achieve geopolitical goals, but a means of trade with an honest and market price.
How can this be done?
Today Bulgaria buys Russian gas completely. We can build a gas interconnector, which will connect us to the terminal in the Greek Aleksandropoulos. Thus, we can safely buy liquefied gas from a dozen other suppliers. That is, when Bulgaria builds its gas network and has competing suppliers, and not just one monopolist, it will help understand Russia that even small Bulgaria should sell gas not at a monopoly but at a real market price. I hope Bulgaria will build this gas interconnector with Greece as soon as possible. I hope that this will take place in a period of up to one year, and we will be able to buy gas from various sources, including from Azerbaijan, with whom we have already signed a gas supply contract.
In this context, what do you think about the "Turkish Stream-2"? In your opinion, is it an economic benefit to the country or a threat to its energy security?
To begin with, I want to point out that we must definitely diversify the sources of supply in order to buy gas in Russia, and we could also buy it in Qatar and Azerbaijan, and if necessary, in the United States and Norway. That is, we need new opportunities that will reduce our dependence on Gazprom.
As for the "Turkish flow-2", I will not mind this project only if it allows Bulgaria to be converted into a gas hub, that is, it will allow it to receive gas from more than one source.
At one time, President Georgy Pirvanov spoke about the Great Helmet with completely Russian projects. I have replaced this "Great Helmet" with intelligent energy priorities. These priorities, for which I had a full consensus with the National Security Advisory Board, were energy liberalization, efficiency and diversification. On the line of energy efficiency, a national billion-dollar program was developed. With regard to liberalization, today we have an energy exchange, on which different companies can safely buy electricity. With regard to diversification, one of its components is the aforementioned gas hub "Balkan", which, I hope, will still happen.
Recently, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov stated that the Bulgarian authorities are passive to the Kremlin hybrid aggression. What prevents the authorities from being more active in this matter?
I share his position. Against Bulgaria there is also hybrid aggression and attacks in different directions. As head of state, I witnessed that as a protest against Bulgaria in 2015, a powerful cyberattack was organized during the local elections and referendum, which until now was not held anywhere in the Balkans. Its aim was to defeat democratic elections of local authorities and a referendum. Objects of attack were not only the Bulgarian institutions: the election commission, the government, the presidency, but it was also an attack against Bulgarian democracy. Many NATO services then pointed out that the attack was carried out by a group of hackers FancyWear, which is closely linked to Russian military intelligence.
At the same time, today in Bulgaria there are hundreds of sites that produce fake news and propaganda every day. They, together with politicians and various civic organizations, work to destabilize the country. In addition, a number of Bulgarian politicians continue to serve other people's interests without understanding the price of their game. Their actions are all one thing to invite a wolf into a bark.
The only way to protect us from this is to deepen integration with the EU and NATO. If we were not a NATO member, we would have already had a frozen conflict like the ones that exist today in other states on the periphery of Russia, and Bulgaria would be in constant dependence and subordination of the Kremlin.
From the Bulgarian side, you can hear statements that today everyone should work for the NATO-Russia meeting. How important and relevant is this dialogue for Bulgaria and the Alliance?
I am a supporter of such a dialogue, and during my presidency, I advocated such a dialogue to take place. And I would be very pleased if Bulgaria were the master of the meeting, on which the dialogue between NATO and Russia would resume. On the other hand, Bulgaria can make such a proposal only from the standpoint of a credible and worthy NATO member who can be trusted.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently said in Washington, during the celebration of the 70's anniversary of NATO, that it is necessary to prevent the Second Cold War. I do not quite agree with this definition, because even during the Cold War there was a dialogue between NATO and the USSR. We are at a completely different stage of development today. Starting from 2014 year, I constantly say that we are entering a new, unknown stage of development, which I call the "cold world". This is the world because nobody wants a full-scale war. But this world is cold because we have all the elements of confrontation and action to destabilize the enemy using all means of the Cold War.
This stage, in my opinion, is more dangerous and unpredictable than the Cold War. At the moment there is no trust between world leaders. There is also no dialogue. Based on this dangerous situation, I am very excited and hope that the mechanisms for dialogue between NATO and Russia will be created. Otherwise, the world will plunge into chaos and total confrontation, whose results may be tragic to all.
Until we have fallen into chaos, we need to look for opportunities to prevent this. And the dialogue between NATO and Russia is just one of those opportunities.
The Cold World is the transitional period from the world order created after the Second World War and which we can lose to a new world order in a completely different multipolar world of the 21-century with a much more complicated balance of interests and forces that we have not yet achieved. In this transitional period, it is extremely important to strive for dialogue and trust, to support principles, not interests, to give way to wise rather than strong leaders, so that institutions of international law are supported and strengthened, not destroyed.
Igor Fedyk, TsDAKR-Balkan