Staunton, June 18 – Ten days ago, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev gave a tough pro-NATO and anti-Russian speech in the European Parliament; two days ago, his prime minister Boiko Borisov said Sofia would not take part in a proposed NATO force intended to counter Russian forces on the Black Sea.
In between those two events was a meeting of Bulgaria’s “Russophile” organization, a 34,000-member group with close ties to Moscow and the upper reaches of Russian security services and one totally opposed to Bulgarian cooperation with NATO and Western sanctions on Russia.
That meeting, as US-based Russian commentator Kseniya Kirillova points out, was reported only sparingly in Russia and Bulgaria but a report about it was featured on the homepage of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI) that was set up by the SVR and is now attached to Putin’s Administration (nr2.com.ua/blogs/Ksenija_Kirillova/Rusofily-otkalyvayut-Bolgariyu-ot-NATO-120937.html and riss.ru/events/31606/).
The RISI report specified that the Russian delegation to the “Russophile” meeting included Aleksandr Vasilenko, a United Russia Duma deputy, Aleksandr Fomenko of the Russian Writers Union, Russian diplomats, education officials, and a senior advisor to the RISI director.
Under normal circumstances, perhaps, one might see such a delegation and such a meeting as nothing more than things designed to promote cultural cooperation between two historically close peoples. But the meeting as reported by RISI clearly had more immediate political goals involving NATO and sanctions.
The 600 delegates to the session, RISI noted, adopted “a sharp declaration” categorically condemning “aggression toward Russia” and the June 8 speech of President Plevneliev. Nikolai Malinov, the president of the Russophiles group, told the meeting that polls show that “82 percent of the Bulgarians are Russophiles” and demanded that Sofia reflect on that.
Indeed, Malinov insisted, “to be a patriot in Bulgaria means to be a Russophile.”
This meeting and RISI’s involvement with it are among the most blatant of Moscow’s current “soft power” moves in Europe to try to undercut NATO and divide Europe. They are a reminder of the means the Russian government is prepared to use and how effective such “below the radar” actions can be in particular countries.