WAR IN UKRAINE: DIPLOMATIC RAMIFICATIONS
In a signed front-page comment on Democratic Bulgaria’s proposal to declare Russian Ambassador in Sofia Eleonora Mitrofanova persona non grata, Duma argues that “the hysterical pathos and pathological Russophonia of Democratic Bulgaria is explicable but not justifiable”. The author argues that a recent statement by Ukrainian Ambassador to Bulgaria Vitaliy Moskalenko that “whoever opposes the provision of weapons [to Ukraine] de facto supports Putin” was passed over by the Right with “tactful silence” despite being an attempt at pressure and interference into this country’s policy. The comment describes the Ukrainian diplomat’s insistence as “inadmissible”. “Bulgaria’s interest is in keeping a reasonable distance from this conflict. Sending arms there would lead in practice to more casualties and devastation for Ukraine,” the author points out. The main frontpage story in the Left Daily covers the controversy in the ruling coalition over the fate of the Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria.
Trud writes that Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev’s statement that the Government may come up with a position on declaring Mitrofanova persona non grata before the end of the day on Wednesday was a “one-man show”. Cabinet members do not think that the diplomat will be expelled.
WAR IN UKRAINE: MILITARY PROSPECTS
In www.dnevnik.bg, Peter Karaboev discusses three scenarios for the development of the war in Ukraine. The least likely scenario is reaching a ceasefire soon, even before the beginning of the summer. A more realistic prospect is that the situation will get worse before it gets better, with the conflict stagnating at its present level and neither belligerent being able to achieve peace on the basis of a military victory. In a third scenario, similar to what happened in Syria, the conflict will fall apart into a number of local conflicts steered by local military leaders and lacking a single centre of resistance, drawing Moscow into a long-drawn recurrent war of attrition which Russia cannot win militarily despite its larger resources and population and completely ruining the Ukrainian economy and infrastructure.
WAR IN UKRAINE: RAMIFICATIONS FOR THE BALKANS
Prof. Ivan Ilchev tells 24 Chasa in a large interview that the worst case scenario for the Balkans would be if the Russian troops capture the entire Southeastern Ukraine and threaten Odessa, which would not only deprive Ukraine of an outlet to the Black Sea but will make Russia dangerously close to the Balkans, considering that the Russian diplomacy has long coveted Ukraine’s southern border at the Danube delta. “If Russia succeeds in entrenching there, it will be able to intervene directly in the Balkans,” the historian notes. In his opinion, a complete post-war recovery of Ukraine will probably take decades.
BULGARIAN ARMED FORCES
Interviewed on Bulgarian National Radio, international security expert Dimitar Gardev, who chaired the Foreign Policy Committee in the 45th National Assembly, describes the present condition of the Bulgarian Armed Forces as “disastrous”. “Bulgaria used to have the strongest army in the Balkans, with 2,300 tanks and over 180 aircraft. All these things were sold off on the world market and the idea was to channel the proceeds into updating the military to meet NATO standards,” the interviewee says, arguing that, instead, this money has been plundered over 30 years.
BULGARIA – NORTH MACEDONIA
In a comment contributed to Trud, Assoc. Prof. Spas Tashev argues that while Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov expressed a “facile position” that Bulgaria’s veto serves the Russian interests keeping Skopje and Sofia apart, North Macedonia is readying to purge all Bulgarians in government posts there who back the Bulgarian veto under the pretext of fighting Russian influence. The author argues that, to all intents and purposes, this directly serves the interests of Belgrade and Moscow, whose principal objective is to cleanse North Macedonia of all Bulgarians because they pose the key obstacle to the attainment of their geopolitical interests.
BULGARIA’S RECOVERY AND RESILIENCE PLAN “The idea of the recovery plan was to help the recovery from the COVID crisis. Unfortunately, the recovery came before we adopted the plan and before we launched the relevant reforms and programmes,” Open Society Institute Chief Economist Georgi Angelov said in an interview on Bulgarian National Radio. “We are now entering a new crisis, a new problem situation, and this plan may prove to be of no use in the current crisis.” Angelov explained that the plan “provides for much flexibility and can finance projects started even before its adoption”.
On Nova TV, economist Lachezar Bogdanov commented that the digitization, energy transition, a more competitive labour market and judicial reform specified in the Recovery and Resilience Plan are not new but now they come with a clear condition that getting financing is contingent on carrying them out. “Clearly, we will now use the Plan for longer-term objectives [than recovery from the COVID-19 crisis,” he pointed out, adding that “this is the carrot that will stimulate the good policy making by the powerholders”.
In the same show, former labour and social policy minister Ivan Neykov said that, unlike before, when achieving the pre-crisis levels was targeted, in the post-war situation Bulgaria should aspire to become more resilient and independent, which it was not before the crisis, and this adds a whole new dimension to the Plan.
Commenting on the proposal that a high-ranking judge be entrusted with handling an alert against the prosecutor general, Prof. Plamen Kirov told bTV that there are no guarantees that this magistrate will be independent.
The constitutional law expert specified that if a particular judge investigates a particular person, there are no guarantees that this judge will not act in personam the prosecutor general. Kirov warned that the proposed reform may come into conflict with the constitutional rules because the Constitution allows a special investigation procedure to be established only for office holders who enjoys some sort of immunity, whereas the prosecutor general actually does not enjoy immunity.
The professor believes that the planned reform cannot be carried out without a revision of the basic law, which requires a majority that cannot be achieved in the incumbent Parliament. “Still, it makes sense that the powerholders will try to implement the reform through legislative amendments because they have committed to it to the European institutions,” he added.
In www.dnevnik.bg, economist Georgi Angelov argues that the current rampant inflation was spurred, first, by the economic recovery in 2021, then by the energy prices spike due to the smaller quantities of natural gas sold by Russia, and finally by the shock and panic triggered by the war against Ukraine that sent the prices of a number of raw materials and foods skyrocketing. Bulgaria, though, is not just a loser from this situation because it produces and exports some of the appreciating goods: electricity, wheat, sunflower seed, cooking oil, etc. While it cannot stop inflation that is pushed by external factors, it can protect households’ purchasing power by offering tax incentives (in the form or lower taxes or social security contributions) to companies that raise their employees’ wages to outpace inflation, the analyst suggests.
Economist Mika Zaikova commented on bTV that while food prices have increased by some 31 per cent, wages have grown at half that rate, which means that it is almost impossible to hedge savings.
In the same show, financial expert Lyubomir Dastov noted that inflation is an effect rather than a cause and the war is used as a very convenient excuse for inflation that has been accelerating in Europe over the last two or three years. Datsov blamed monetary policy, a build-up of debts and an increase of spending for the present rise in inflation. He argued that it is a bad idea to plan such large budget deficits in a zero-growth year.
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24 Chasa leads on the Finance Ministry’s plans to implement a new package of measures offsetting the impact of the price hikes on households and businesses. The package will be finalized within a couple of weeks and will be laid before the National Assembly. According to the daily’s sources, several options are being contemplated: to make direct cash payments to households, to hand out vouchers for payment for various goods and services, or to assist producers if they pledge not to raise the prices of their products. The Agriculture Ministry is acting to ensure cheaper fertilizers so as to enable farmers to keep food prices down. The measures will have to be cleared with the European Commission so that Bulgaria would not be penalized for unlawful State aid.
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Trud leads on the appreciable invigoration of housing purchases over the last six months as a refuge from rampant inflation. Another factor of this trend is the low interest that banks charge on mortgage loans, real estate brokers told the daily. While a two-room flat has appreciated from 55,000 euro in 2016 to 90,000 euro now, the monthly mortgage loan payment has dropped from 750 leva to 650 leva. The number of transactions is rising by some 20 per cent annually, and demand keeps outrunning supply. Brokers expect prices to continue to edge up and believe that 2021 will see a record number of transactions on the real estate market.
ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH KOSOVO
Duma reports that Deputy Prime Minister and Economy and Industry Minister Korneliya Ninova conferred here on Wednesday with Kosovo’s Economy Minister Artane Rizvanolli. The daily quotes Ninova as saying that despite the adverse economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, two-way trade grew by 11.4 per cent to 114.4 million euro in 2021. Bulgaria has a 71.3 million trade surplus with Kosovo. The sides discussed the signing of a future Agreement on Economic Cooperation.
FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
In a page-long item, 24 Chasa analyzes the leading candidates’ chances in the April 10 presidential elections in France.
ORBAN, VUCIC ELECTION WINS
In 24 Chasa, social anthropologist Haralan Alexandrov and sociologist Dobromir Zhivkov comment on the recent election victories of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Under the headline “More Stabilocracy with Vucic”, Svetlomira Gyurova writes in www.capital.bg that Vucic may have to abandon his current fence-sitting position about Ukraine which was prompted by Serbia’s political and energy dependence on Moscow, on the one hand, and its far closer reliance on Europe and the EU than on Russia and China for investments and financial support, on the other. If Belgrade is forced to distance itself from Russia, it may probably try to compensate this not only by drawing closer to the West but also by fostering a closer relationship with Beijing, given that, just as Russia, China, too, is and can continue to be a guarantor of blocking Kosovo in international organizations. CULTURE
Telegraph runs a page-long profile of much loved Bulgarian pop singer Yordanka Hristova. Another page in the same daily is devoted to France’s national chanteuse Edith Piaf.
WAR IN UKRAINE: DIPLOMATIC RAMIFICATIONS