Is Ukraine sacrificed on the Budapest-Moscow axis?

Is Ukraine sacrificed on the Budapest-Moscow axis?

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is blocking a European financial aid package of 50 billion euros over four years for Ukraine, has explicitly requested that this aid be granted outside the EU budget and be subject to annual review.

Strong Opposition

“If we want to support Ukraine, let’s do it outside the EU budget and on an annual basis! This is the only sustainable democratic position with five months to go before the European elections,” Orban mentioned in a post on the social network X. He clarified his position after stating on Tuesday that he was willing to support Kiev but “without harming the EU’s common budget.” The Hungarian Prime Minister gave up his veto on Ukraine’s accession negotiations with the EU in December at the European Council. However, he blocked a €50 billion EU financial aid package for Ukraine for the next four years. This decision was made amidst tensions between Budapest and Kiev regarding the rights of the Hungarian minority in the Transcarpathia region and the European Commission’s withholding of EU funds that Hungary is entitled to. The Hungarian government has been accused by Brussels of violating the rule of law. Before the December summit, the European Commission unlocked €10.2 billion from cohesion funds for Hungary, along with €920 million from the European REPowerEU plan. However, over €21 billion of other EU funds (cohesion funds and post-pandemic recovery plan) remain frozen.

During this time, Viktor Orban is demanding the unblocking of all European funds, which he claims have been unfairly withheld from his country for political reasons by the European Commission due to Hungary’s opposition to illegal migration and the LGBT movement.

While discussions with Budapest continue regarding the lifting of the veto on aid to Ukraine ahead of a new European summit scheduled for February 1st, the European Commission is exploring alternative solutions, such as taking out a €20 billion loan and providing this amount to Ukraine. Hungary opposes this loan scheme as well, which is similar to the financing of the European post-pandemic recovery plan, warning that ultimately, all EU member states will have to repay this credit through their own contributions to the EU budget.

Is the EU blackmailed?

Hungary is far from reaching an agreement with the European Union regarding aid for Ukraine, according to Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. This statement comes as the EU seeks to secure a deal on a new financial assistance package for Kiev, as reported by Reuters.

Gergely Gulyas made these remarks after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated during a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg that she was “confident” that all 27 EU member states would find a solution to provide funds to Ukraine, a matter currently hindered by Hungary’s resistance.

Hungary is in discussions with the Commission, but it is not certain that an agreement will be reached. If an agreement is not reached, the other 26 EU member states may find a solution without Hungary, said Orban’s chief of staff.

Providing aid through 26 bilateral agreements is an option that has been brought up but is more complicated and costly than using the central budget, and it could potentially affect EU unity.

Gergely Gulyas also explained that the President of the European Commission has conditioned the unlocking of new EU funds for Hungary on changes related to LGBTI issues and migration, attempting to exert pressure on Budapest.

He emphasized that Hungarian voters have clearly expressed their opinions on these two issues and assured that his government is willing to reach an agreement on matters that are “not harmful.” However, when it comes to issues on which Hungarian citizens have made their stance clear, this would be “antidemocratic and unacceptable,” the source further emphasizes.

Historical Relations

In the past, Hungary and Russia had historical ties, especially in the 19th century when both countries were part of the Habsburg Empire and shared political and cultural connections. However, these relations became tense after the Cold War when Hungary moved out of the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.

Hungary and Russia have a significant trade relationship. Hungary imports energy, especially natural gas, from Russia and has been a supporter of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which would enable the direct supply of Russian gas to Western Europe. This has been criticized by some European countries and the United States, who believe it could increase Western Europe’s dependence on Russian energy resources.

Hungary and Russia have cooperated in the field of nuclear energy for civilian purposes. Hungary operates a nuclear power plant, the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, which has four nuclear reactors and plays a crucial role in the country’s electricity production. This plant was built in collaboration with Russia and was modernized through an agreement signed in 2014, which included the construction of two new reactors at Paks.

This nuclear cooperation has been of interest in the context of European energy and geopolitical security. Some Western countries and organizations have expressed concerns about Hungary’s dependency on Russia in terms of nuclear energy, viewing it as a potential influence of Russia in the energy infrastructure of Eastern Europe.

Hungary is a member of the European Union (EU) and is subject to EU policies and regulations. Within the EU, Hungary has previously opposed the sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. This stance has drawn criticism from other EU member states that have supported the sanctions.

The relationship between Budapest and Moscow is complex and ever-changing, influenced by multiple economic, energy, and geopolitical interests and considerations. This relationship can evolve based on changes in the domestic and international policies of both countries.

Budapest and Kiev

The relations between Ukraine and Hungary have been tense at various points in recent history due to various issues, especially those related to the Hungarian minority in Ukraine and the bilateral relations between the two countries.

One of the main sources of tension between the two countries is the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, which resides mainly in the Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia) region in western Ukraine. Hungary has periodically raised concerns regarding the rights and status of this minority, including issues related to the use of the Hungarian language in schools and local administration. Russian propaganda has exploited these differences to the fullest, with accusations of the involvement of Russian federal security services in various destabilization actions.

A major source of tension was Ukraine’s adoption of an education law in 2017, which raised concerns in Hungary. The law restricted the use of minority languages in schools and imposed limits on the use of the Hungarian language in the education system. Hungary saw this law as a threat to the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.

Tensions related to minority issues have led to diplomatic conflicts between the two countries. Hungary has blocked or put on hold certain Ukrainian initiatives within the European Union and NATO in response to these concerns.

The relations between Ukraine and Hungary should be understood in the broader geopolitical context of Eastern Europe and Ukraine’s relations with other neighboring states, such as Russia and Romania. The current leadership in Budapest has used the issue of minorities in relations with all neighboring states, raising accusations of serving the strategic interests of Hungary within the broader context of Moscow’s strategy to weaken the European Union and NATO from within.

German Warning

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has warned that the war between Russia and Ukraine could extend to neighboring countries, as reported by the media. “We hear threats from the Kremlin almost every day – most recently again against our friends in the Baltic states,” Pistorius said in an article published by the Tagesspiegel newspaper on Friday, marking exactly one year since taking office as the Federal Minister of Defense. Regarding the German army (Bundeswehr), Boris Pistorius emphasized: “We need to rapidly strengthen our defense capabilities, in the context of the urgency of the threat situation.” “Therefore, we must consider the fact that (Russian President) Vladimir Putin might even attack a NATO country at some point,” Boris Pistorius stated, estimating that if it were to happen, it would be within “5-8 years” from now. With his call for the Bundeswehr to become “war-ready,” Pistorius intended to “shake up” German society. He is waiting for proposals to reintroduce a version of mandatory military service by April, after his country abandoned it in 2011. According to the German minister, the defense industry needs to become more efficient. Boris Pistorius has advocated for reforming public debt, for security reasons. “With a debt mechanism in its current form, we will not get through these crises unscathed,” he explained. On the other hand, the Berlin representative rejected requests for increasing German military aid to Ukraine, saying that the Bundeswehr cannot be brought to “exhaustion” and leave Germany “defenseless.” On February 24, 2022, Russia launched an unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, claiming to carry out a “special military operation of denazification” in the neighboring country and to protect the Russian-speaking community.

Parliamentary Protest

The European Parliament has contested the European Commission’s decision to unfreeze over 10 billion euros in EU funds for Hungary last December, in a resolution voted on Thursday, two weeks before an extraordinary European Council summit dedicated to adopting aid for Ukraine, as reported by Agerpres in a special correspondence. In the resolution adopted with 345 votes in favor, 104 against, and 29 abstentions, MEPs express their deep concern about the ongoing erosion of democracy, rule of law, and fundamental rights in Hungary, particularly with the recent adoption of the so-called “national sovereignty protection package” – which has been compared to Russia’s “foreign agents law,” as stated by the community legislature in a press release. Expressing regret for the Council’s failure to apply the procedure provided for in Article 7, Paragraph (1), following its activation by the Parliament in 2018, the community legislature calls on the European Council to determine whether Hungary has seriously and persistently violated EU values, in accordance with the more direct procedure provided for in Article 7, Paragraph (2). In theory, the procedure can lead to the suspension of voting rights at Council of the EU meetings. MEPs also condemn the actions of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who last December blocked the crucial decision to revise the EU’s long-term budget, including the aid package for Ukraine, thereby fully violating the EU’s strategic interests and the principle of loyal cooperation. The EU must not yield to blackmail, they emphasize in the adopted resolution.

The EP announces its regret over the European Commission’s decision to release up to 10.2 billion from previously frozen funds, despite Hungary not having fulfilled the required reforms for judicial independence, and in a context where the EU executive recently extended the application of measures from the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation. Furthermore, MEPs condemn systemic discriminatory practices against the academic environment, journalists, political parties, and civil society in the allocation of funds. They also express regret for the use of manipulated public procurement procedures, government and government-affiliated entities’ public purchase offers, and the use of EU funds to enrich the government’s political allies. The necessary measures for unlocking EU funding, under various regulations, should be treated as a single package, and payments should not be made if deficiencies persist in any area. The European Parliament insists that it will examine whether legal action should be initiated to annul the partial unfreezing of funds and emphasizes that it can use a range of legal and political measures if the Commission fails to fulfill its duties as guardian of the treaties and to protect the EU’s financial interests. In the EP plenary session in Strasbourg, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen justified her decision on Wednesday to unfreeze certain funds for Hungary, explaining that Budapest had carried out the reforms demanded by Brussels to strengthen the independence of its judicial system.

However, she reminded that “about 20 billion euros” of EU funds destined for Hungary remain frozen, due to concerns especially related to LGBT+ rights, academic freedom, and the right to asylum.

The EP, in its adopted resolution, also questions whether the Hungarian government will be able to fulfill its duties in the second half of 2024, warning that if the position of President of the European Council is vacant, it will fall to the Hungarian Prime Minister during the Council’s six-month presidency. The text refers to Charles Michel’s announced candidacy in the European parliamentary elections, who announced that he will submit his resignation upon the formation of the new community legislature if elected. MEPs call on the Council to find adequate solutions to mitigate these risks and demand reforms to the Council’s decision.

Nuclear Discussions Impossible

Russia has stated that talks with the USA on nuclear arms control are impossible if the situation in Ukraine is not considered, while also accusing Washington of trying to impose its military dominance, according to the media.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, explained in a press conference that Washington has proposed separating the two issues and resuming talks on “strategic stability” between the two countries, which hold the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. Lavrov emphasized that this proposal is unacceptable for Russia due to the West’s support for Ukraine in the war that has already lasted for nearly two years.

He made these remarks in the context where the New Start treaty, the last bilateral Russian-American agreement on nuclear arms control, expires in February 2026, and tensions between the two nuclear superpowers are at their highest level since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. “We see not the slightest interest from the USA or NATO in settling the Ukrainian conflict and listening to Russia’s concerns,” added the head of Russian diplomacy, as quoted by the Russian media.

He accused the West of pushing Ukraine to use increasingly long-range weapons to strike deeper inside Russia. Such attacks have intensified in recent weeks; on December 30, 25 people were killed in the southern Russian city of Belgorod in one such attack. Sergey Lavrov provided no evidence to support his claim that the West encourages Ukraine to carry out such attacks but accused the United States of seeking military superiority over Russia, as noted by Reuters.

The Russian minister insisted that talks on arms control are unfounded as long as the West conducts what he called a “hybrid war” against Moscow. “We do not reject this idea in the future, but we condition this possibility on the West abandoning its policy of undermining and disrespecting Russia’s interests,” concluded Lavrov.

The Russian Federation, the inheritor of the Soviet nuclear power, has the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, nearly 6,000 warheads, according to experts. Together, the USA and Russia hold about 90% of the global nuclear warhead count, enough to destroy the planet several times over.

The Russian foreign minister also called on the USA to cease its “aggression” against Yemen, following the American military’s fourth bombing of Houthi rebels in less than a week. “The most important thing now is to end the aggression against Yemen, as the more the Americans and the British bomb, the less willing the rebels will be to negotiate,” Lavrov noted in the same press conference.

Purification of Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Thursday that the military offensive against Ukraine has allowed for the “purification” of Russia from people who “do not feel a sense of belonging to the history and culture” of the country.

Since the beginning of the conflict nearly two years ago, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country for political reasons or fear of being drafted into the military, a choice firmly condemned by Russian authorities. The suppression of any dissenting voice has sent hundreds more to prison, as any criticism of the Kremlin’s policies is not tolerated in Russia, according to international media.

“The special military operation has united our society like never before and contributed to its purification from those without any sense of belonging to Russian history and culture,” said Sergey Lavrov, using the official euphemism to refer to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Some have left, others have stayed and started to reflect,” he added during a press conference in Moscow, where he reviewed the activities of Russian diplomacy in 2023.

This is not the first time Russian authorities, who claim they want to “denazify Ukraine,” have spoken about the need to “purify” society. In March 2022, at the beginning of the conflict, President Vladimir Putin said that “such an autopurification of society will only strengthen our country.” “Every people, and the Russian people in particular, will always be able to identify the trash and traitors and spit them out as one would spit out a fly that flew into their mouth,” Putin stated.

In the same press conference, the Russian Foreign Minister equated the Holocaust – the genocide against the Jewish people carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II – with the killing of other peoples by the Nazis, as reported on its website by Radio Svoboda, the Russian service of Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL).

Lavrov implied this while commenting on Israel’s operation against the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization by the USA and EU, in the Gaza Strip. According to the Russian minister, “Israelis should not create the impression that, because they suffered during World War II, they can do anything today,” as reported by the radio station. “Yes, there was the Holocaust, a terrible crime. But there was also genocide against all the peoples of the Soviet Union. They did not suffer less… If we were to follow this logic, then we too can do anything, everything is allowed for us,” Lavrov stated in his press conference.

In this context, the head of Russian diplomacy stated that, during Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, “far fewer” civilian casualties are observed compared to the current operation by Israel in the Gaza Strip, according to the Russian official news agency RIA Novosti. Moscow criticizes Israel, accusing it of causing a high number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. In 2022, Israel protested against a statement by Sergey Lavrov, who claimed that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood,” and in 2023, when he compared the West’s policy towards Russia with Hitler’s actions against the Jews, according to Radio Svoboda.

Coalition for Artillery

Allies of Ukraine launched an “artillery” coalition in Paris on Thursday to address urgent weapon needs of Kyiv, which has warned of an “ammunition shortage” ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, international media reports.

“The ammunition shortage is a very real and pressing issue our armed forces are currently facing,” wrote Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustam Umerov on social network X (formerly Twitter) during the launch of an “artillery coalition,” led by France and the USA.

“We need to strengthen Ukrainian defense capabilities to protect the free world against the Russian threat,” he stated.

The artillery coalition launched on Thursday is one of the components of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the so-called Ramstein Group, which brings together over 50 countries in several subgroups, from demining to anti-air defense.

“There is no alternative to modern artillery; we must continue our efforts and increase our ammunition production,” the Ukrainian defense minister said in a video conference during the opening ceremony, after canceling his visit for “security reasons”.

France announced on this occasion that it would “release a sum of 50 million euros” to “purchase 12 additional Caesar (howitzers)” – bringing the total number of such equipment for Ukraine to 67 – and said it has the capacity to produce another 60, funding of which will depend on allies.

“I called Emmanuel Macron to thank France for launching the ‘artillery’ coalition for Ukraine and committing to produce dozens of ‘Caesars’,” said President Volodymyr Zelensky on social network X. The two leaders also discussed the “need to further strengthen Ukraine’s anti-air defense,” targeted almost every night by drones and missiles launched by Moscow, added Zelensky.

Kyiv has already deployed 49 Caesars, produced by Nexter (Franco-German group KNDS), with another six howitzers to be delivered “in the coming weeks,” according to the French Ministry of Defense. France has the capacity to produce another 72 such howitzers and is prepared to finance the manufacture of 12, indicated French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu. “Thus, 60 remain to be financed, about 250 million euros, a sum that seems accessible for different budgets of the allies,” he continued in front of representatives of 23 countries supporting Ukraine’s defense.

To arm the howitzers, the EU had set a goal to supply Ukraine with a million munitions by spring 2024. But only 300,000 shells have been delivered so far, according to European parliamentarians. Ukrainians launch between 5,000 and 8,000 shells daily, compared to 10,000-15,000 by the Russian side, emphasized Cedric Perrin, chairman of the French Senate’s International Affairs Committee, noting that “national and European production is extremely weak” and that “the current economy does not meet Ukrainian expectations.” From the French side, Minister Lecornu insisted on Thursday on tripling French ammunition deliveries to Ukraine, which have increased from 1,000 units per month to 2,000 in the first year of war and should rise to 3,000 shells starting in January. “We are in the process of rebuilding gunpowder stocks. We are recycling powders from unused ammunition,” he told reporters. The minister also announced the delivery of about 50 air-to-ground guidance kits A2SM per month starting in January, throughout the year. With a medium range, these can be adapted to “Soviet-class” aircraft such as Mig and Sukhoi, used by Ukraine, he assured.

France has already transferred or sold 30 Caesars to Ukraine, which ordered an additional six howitzers in the fall. Denmark has also provided 19 units of an eight-wheeled armored version. Mounted on a truck, the Caesar howitzer can fire 155 mm shells at a distance of 40 kilometers. Emmanuel Macron announced he will visit Ukraine in February, for the second time since the war began on February 24, 2022. France is “about to finalize” a security agreement with Kyiv similar to the one signed on Friday between the United Kingdom and Ukraine for a duration of ten years, he added, announcing among other things the delivery of about 40 Scalp missiles.

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Ukraine: War, Peace and European Dreams

Ukraine: War, Peace and European Dreams

The Ukrainian army is advancing slowly on the southern front in an attempt to achieve more results before the fall sets in, while the Russian army has concentrated over 420,000 soldiers on the ground to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive. “We must reclaim our land,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared in an interview with CNN.

Hopes in Kiev

Zelensky’s statement comes amid reports of Ukrainian forces advancing towards Tokmak, a significant railway junction in the south used by the Russian army to maintain the front in the region. “Ukraine will not back down, will not abandon its own territory. We will never do that,” Zelensky added, reiterating that the war would be long, as a frozen conflict does not mean peace.

Zelensky acknowledges the slowdown of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which he attributed to Russia’s aerial superiority and the slow delivery of Western arms. “Some things are on the way. Many people say the counteroffensive is too slow, but some things are on the way,” he insisted.

In this regard, he assured that he would once again discuss with American partners the need to supply Kiev with long-range ATACMS missiles, which are expected to be received as early as this fall.

In any case, the war will not have a happy ending, Zelensky said. “This is not a movie that lasts an hour and a half (…) There will be no ‘happy end.’ We have lost a lot of people,” the Ukrainian president stated.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar indicated that in the past week, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has managed to recapture 4.8 square kilometers of territory in the southwest of the Donetsk region and the neighboring Zaporizhia region. Maliar explained that with the recovery of this territory, Ukrainian forces attacking on these two segments of the front line have liberated a total of 256.5 square kilometers since Ukraine began its counteroffensive in early June.

Race Against the Weather

While senior American officials claim that Ukraine has between 30 and 45 days to continue its counteroffensive before worsening weather conditions, Kirilo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, has stated that adverse weather will not hinder Kiev from pursuing its plans. “Last autumn, combat actions did not cease. This year will be the same,” he asserted, promising that the offensive “in all directions will continue.”

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), in its daily report on Monday, estimates that “cold and wet weather will impact but not stop” Kiev’s operations.

In turn, Russia is said to have concentrated around 420,000 troops in the occupied territories to thwart Kiev and launch its own offensive, according to Ukrainian sources. Moscow is thus attempting to “take revenge” and regain some of the territories liberated by Ukraine last year, such as extensive areas in the Kharkiv region, as indicated by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

Furthermore, Russian forces aim to gain full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east, one of the primary objectives of their military intervention in Ukraine, according to GUR.

Black Sea, Theater of War

Officials in Kiev have announced that Ukraine has recaptured two oil and gas drilling platforms from the Russians in the Black Sea, which had been under Moscow’s control since 2015 and were located close to the annexed Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“Ukraine has taken control of ‘Vishki Boika’ (Boiko Towers),” announced the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s intelligence service (GUR) in a statement. During a “unique operation,” “clashes took place between Ukrainian special forces on board ships and a Russian Su-30 fighter jet,” the statement added, stating that “the Russian plane was damaged and had to retreat.”

During the operation, other “valuable trophies” were also captured, such as helicopter ammunition and a radar system capable of tracking the movement of ships in the Black Sea, GUR further reported.

The statement recalls that Russia had occupied these platforms since 2015 when it annexed Crimea in 2014, and Moscow had been using them for military purposes since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia has not yet commented on this information, and the cited news agencies have not been able to independently verify GUR’s information. “For Ukraine, regaining control of the Boiko Towers has strategic importance, and as a result, Russia has lost the ability to use them for military purposes,” GUR emphasized in a video posted on Telegram.

“Russia is now deprived of the ability to fully control the waters of the Black Sea, and this means that Ukraine has taken significant steps toward the liberation of Crimea,” the GUR statement concludes. Before Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine extracted a significant portion of natural gas from the Black Sea, supplying gas not only to Crimea but also to mainland Ukrainian regions.

Foto: wikipedia
Foto: wikipedia

Billions for Ukraine

In 2024, Ukraine will need financial assistance from the United States in the range of $12 to $14 billion, as budgetary expenses remain high amid the Russian invasion, stated Ukrainian Finance Minister Serghei Marcenko on Monday.

Marcenko also expressed hope that the interim budget of the United States would be approved soon, allowing Ukraine to receive an additional $3.3 billion by the end of the year to cover the budget deficit. “There are no discussions yet, there is a lot of uncertainty, and we are not confident that this is guaranteed,” said Serghei Marcenko at a business forum held in Kiev.

Marcenko added that in 2024, the ministry he heads would like to receive funding from the United States for the state budget at a level similar to this year. “Not lower than this year: somewhere between $12 and $14 billion. That’s what we expect,” Serghei Marcenko stated.

Ukraine received nearly $10 billion in financial aid from the United States this year to cover the budget deficit, and Ukrainian authorities estimate that their needs will not diminish next year as the Ukrainian army makes slow progress in its counteroffensive.

Although U.S. President Joe Biden has requested emergency funds of $24 billion to respond to the war in Ukraine, the next tranche of American aid for Ukraine has faced political obstacles as the United States enters a cycle of presidential elections.

Ukraine’s new Defense Minister, Rustem Umerov, stated last week that he would request a budget increase for defense this year by 251 billion hryvnias ($6.8 billion), given that military expenses are rising day by day.

Finance Minister Serghei Marcenko mentioned that the Kiev government would discuss the Defense Minister’s request at the next meeting but appreciated that “I’m not sure we’ll be able to cover all the needs” mentioned by Rustem Umerov.

War for Peace

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated on Tuesday that a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine is not yet in sight, as Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine continues.

Although key actors have sometimes been brought together for discussions, Germany must not turn its back on the daily brutality of the war, Scholz emphasized during the “International Meeting of Religions and Cultures in Dialogue” forum in Berlin, an annual event organized by the lay Catholic movement Sant’Egidio.

“This requires effort and time,” the German Chancellor said about peace negotiations. “Time that we actually don’t have, because in the meantime, Russia continues to bomb, torture, and kill in Ukraine,” he added. As the basis for any peace, “the Russian leadership must understand that it is about the withdrawal of troops,” Olaf Scholz stressed: “Then there will be the possibility for discussions, and the Ukrainian government will participate, I am sure of that.”

Over 18 months since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chancellor rejected the “narratives” that a peace deal had already been negotiated between Ukraine and Russia in the spring of 2022 but had been sabotaged by the United States or the United Kingdom. “No, it’s not true,” Scholz firmly stated, thus refuting one of the “narratives” that Moscow has recently been pushing.

He stated that any “common understanding” that might have been found in the early days of the war “was destroyed because the Russian president used that time to move his troops around Ukraine after the failure of the attack on the capital Kiev and to begin the assault on eastern Ukraine.”

Scholz once again defended the delivery of German arms to Ukraine: “We will continue to support Ukraine in its right to self-defense as long as necessary.”

Foto: Facebook

Moscow Sets Conditions

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated on Tuesday that the cancellation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decree prohibiting dialogue with Moscow should be the first step for negotiations between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, according to the official Russian news agency TASS. The same idea was expressed during the day by Russian President Vladimir Putin at an economic forum in Vladivostok (Russia’s Far East), as reported by the Russian press. Lavrov opined that the longer Kiev postpones negotiations with Moscow, the more challenging it will be to negotiate later.

“This is our official position; I will say it again: against the backdrop of the ban on negotiations signed by (Ukrainian President Vladimir) Zelensky, this position should not raise any questions,” Sergei Lavrov said in an interview on Rossia-1 television.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree in October 2022 officially declaring the ‘impossibility’ of any negotiations between Kiev and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, effectively leaving the door open for discussions with Russia.

Zelensky promulgated the decree after the Kremlin declared the annexation of four Ukrainian regions occupied by the Russian army, which Moscow still only partially controls at present – Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south.

“He (Putin) does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are willing to engage in dialogue with Russia, but with a different Russian president,” Zelensky stated at the time, as quoted by Reuters.

Putin’s Threat

Ukraine may begin peace negotiations only when it runs out of resources and will use any potential cessation of hostilities to rearm with the help of the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

The war has devastated areas in eastern and southern Ukraine, killed or injured hundreds of thousands, and triggered the most significant rupture in Russia’s relations with the West since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok, Putin stated that Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces thus far has failed, and the Ukrainian army has suffered heavy losses.

“I have the impression that they want to bite as much as they can and then, when their resources are almost zero, seek a cessation of hostilities and start negotiations to replenish their resources and restore their fighting capacity,” Putin said.

The President added that many potential mediators have asked him if Russia is ready to cease fighting, but he has stated that Russia cannot stop as long as it faces a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

For any chance of discussions, Putin noted that Ukraine should first lift its self-imposed legal ban on peace talks and explain what it wants.

Tough Confrontation

Russia controls approximately 18% of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and territories in eastern and southern Ukraine seized in 2022.

Putin also stated that the West’s decision to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions is a crime, but such deliveries, while potentially prolonging the war, will not change its ultimate outcome.

He also criticized the West’s decision to provide Ukraine with F-16 aircraft.

When asked if Russia needs to introduce a new mandatory mobilization, Putin stated that 1,000-1,500 Russians sign voluntary contracts daily to join the army.

In the last six or seven months, 270,000 people have signed voluntary contracts, Putin said—a slightly lower figure than the 280,000 announced by former President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this month.

Foto: Wikipedia

Illegal Annexations

The Kremlin insisted on Monday that negotiations with Ukraine are possible only if Kiev recognizes the reality created on the ground, referring to the Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia in September 2022.

“In any case, the regime in Kiev will have to discuss based on the recognition of the realities that emerged after it refused to resolve the issues peacefully in March (2022),” following the failed negotiations in Istanbul between Russia and Ukraine, held a month after the war began, said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for the Russian presidency.

At the same time, the Kremlin’s spokesperson stated that there are currently no prerequisites for a return to negotiations. “At present, there are no prerequisites for the resumption of the negotiation process,” Peskov stated.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear willing to negotiate. “Everyone wants this war to end, but it must end on fair and sustainable terms that reflect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Blinken said in an interview with ABC News.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an interview with The Economist over the weekend, said he is emotionally prepared for a long-lasting war and believes that “this is not a favorable moment” for possible negotiations with Russia, as the counteroffensive continues, and Moscow sees Ukraine’s difficulties on the battlefield, according to Ukrainska Pravda.

European Dreams

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated during a visit to Kiev that Ukraine’s place is in the European Union, and Kiev can count on us and our vision of EU expansion as a necessary geopolitical consequence of Russia’s war, as reported by German media.

“Ukraine already has candidate status. And now we are preparing to make a decision on opening discussions on EU accession,” Baerbock said.

According to her, Ukraine’s results regarding judicial reform and media legislation are already impressive, but there is still a long way to go in implementing anti-oligarch legislation and fighting corruption. The European Union itself must “work quickly to ensure that we are positioned adequately for more seats at the table,” explained the Berlin representative.

Furthermore, the German Foreign Minister referred to reports of Ukrainian children being deported to Russia, stating that those responsible for the crimes must be brought to justice. Germany supports organizations and authorities “that provide traumatized children with a safe and secure home,” she said.

“The first step toward peace is for Putin to let these children return home,” Baerbock added. The issue is to be addressed at the UN General Assembly.

Annalena Baerbock’s visit to Ukraine is the fourth since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022. The German Foreign Minister arrived in Kiev by train from Poland as Ukrainian airspace remains closed.

Last May, Baerbock became the first member of the German executive to travel to Ukraine since the start of the war. On that occasion, she visited Bucha, near Kiev, the site of horrifying Russian troop atrocities against civilians. Annalena Baerbock also visited Ukraine in mid-September last year and in January of this year.

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Bulgaria, the tourism powerhouse of the Black Sea

Bulgaria, the tourism powerhouse of the Black Sea

The Russian military invasion of Ukraine has caused significant damage to the tourism sector in Bulgaria, a traditional touristic area for citizens of the Russian Federation, Ukraine or Belarus. Authorities in Sofia are trying to identify new solutions to boost this industry.

Foto: wikipedia/Michal Gorski
Foto: wikipedia/Michal Gorski

Tourism Tradition

Bulgaria is known for its natural beauty, the beaches along the Black Sea coast, and its rich cultural heritage. The tourism industry has been a significant sector for the Bulgarian economy, making substantial contributions to national income and job creation.

Bulgaria boasts a number of popular resorts along the Black Sea coast, such as Sunny Beach, Albena, and Golden Sands. These resorts attract tourists due to their beaches, water sports, and vibrant nightlife.

The Balkan state has a rich history and diverse cultural heritage. Cities like Sofia, Plovdiv, and Veliko Tarnovo are renowned for their historical attractions, monuments, and museums.

The Balkan Mountains run through Bulgaria, providing opportunities for mountain tourism, hiking, and winter sports during the colder season. Additionally, Bulgaria is recognized for its spa resorts and thermal baths, such as Bansko and Sandanski, which attract tourists seeking relaxation and healing.

Rural tourism is a growing segment in Bulgaria’s countryside, offering authentic experiences with picturesque villages, local traditions, and specific cuisine. This segment aims to attract both domestic and international tourists.”

Problems and Challenges

A significant issue for Bulgaria’s tourism industry is its outdated or underdeveloped infrastructure. Roads, public transportation, hotels, and other facilities have needed modernization to meet tourists’ requirements and expectations.

Being in a region with strong tourism competition is another challenge. Neighboring countries like Greece, Turkey, and Croatia are also popular tourist destinations, making Bulgaria compete to attract visitors.

Another major challenge has been the seasonal dependency on the summer season. Many of Bulgaria’s attractions, such as Black Sea coastal resorts, draw tourists mainly during the summer, leaving less active periods during the rest of the year.

Similar challenges are present in the winter tourism sector. Diversifying the offerings and promoting tourism during off-peak seasons are concerns to mitigate this seasonal dependence.

Past political instability and economic uncertainty negatively impacted tourists’ confidence in Bulgaria as a safe and attractive destination. Negative media coverage or inappropriate political events can influence tourists’ decisions to choose Bulgaria as their destination. Additionally, few foreign firms are willing to invest in a country known for corruption and political instability.

The rapid growth of tourism in Bulgaria has led to pressures on natural and cultural resources, as well as local communities. Issues like waste management, uncontrolled urban development, and the risk of over-tourism in certain places can threaten the long-term sustainability of the tourism industry.

Improving the quality of tourism services, including accommodations, food, and overall tourist services, is another challenge. Maintaining high standards and ensuring positive experiences for tourists are crucial aspects for the industry’s long-term success, as indicated by specialized studies.

Foto: Facebook

Russian Influx

As of my last update in September 2021, Russian tourists played a significant role in Bulgaria’s tourism industry. Russians were one of the largest groups of foreign tourists visiting Bulgaria in recent years.

During certain periods, Bulgaria was a preferred destination for Russian tourists, especially for vacations along the Black Sea. The country’s proximity to Russia, relatively affordable prices, and coastal attractions were factors that attracted a substantial number of Russian tourists. Several tens of thousands of Russian citizens have purchased properties in Bulgarian tourist areas, both mountainous and coastal, using them as vacation homes or investments. This has impacted the real estate market in certain areas.

Coastal resorts like Sunny Beach and Golden Sands were among the most popular destinations for Russian tourists. The beaches, nightlife, and attractive prices contributed to the popularity of these resorts.

Most Russian tourists preferred to visit Bulgaria during the summer season due to the pleasant climate and appealing beaches. This brought a significant flow of visitors, particularly during the summer months.

Bulgarian experts acknowledged that the presence of Russian tourists had a significant impact on the Bulgarian economy by creating jobs in the tourism industry, generating sales of services and goods, and contributing to state revenue through taxes and fees.

Russian tourists contributed to the overall increase in visitor numbers to Bulgaria, especially during the summer season. This rise in tourist numbers had a positive effect on the economy, generating significant income for businesses in the tourism sector. The presence of Russian tourists also boosted sales across various sectors, including accommodations, restaurants, souvenir shops, excursions, and car rental services. These sales positively impacted local businesses.

The choice of Bulgaria as a vacation destination by Russian tourists helped promote the country in the Russian market and other markets. Positive experiences by Russian tourists could generate good reviews and recommendations for potential visitors.

To cater to the needs and preferences of Russian tourists, Bulgaria’s tourism industry developed and diversified the range of services and facilities offered. This included providing accommodation options, food, and leisure activities that would attract this specific group of tourists, originating from the Russian Federation and other CIS states.

Foto: Facebook
Foto: Facebook

Expanding Tourism

Foreign visitors made 1.8 million trips to Bulgaria in July 2023, which is 19.7% more than the same period last year. The majority of visits to Bulgaria were made by citizens from Turkey (266,400), Romania (224,900), Ukraine (214,600), Germany (180,000), Poland (96,600), Serbia (75,600), Greece (72,500), Czech Republic (60,600), the United Kingdom (59,800), and France (41,500).

Transit through Bulgaria accounted for 35.9% (658,300) of the total foreign visitor trips to Bulgaria.

In the same July period, Bulgarian residents made 820,500 trips abroad, which is 12.1% more than the same period last year. The most frequent travel destinations were Turkey (220,900), Greece (216,400), Romania (60,400), Germany (54,400), Serbia (46,600), Italy (28,100), Austria (23,000), Spain (21,700), France (21,400), and the United Kingdom (17,300).

Holiday and recreation trips accounted for the largest portion of Bulgarian residents’ trips abroad in July, at 44.8%, followed by trips for other purposes (education, cultural and sports events) at 38.6%, and business-related travel at 16.6%.

During this period, Bulgaria is seeing over 30% more bookings compared to last year, and revenues are up by 50%. It is expected to welcome 13 million foreign visitors in 2023, as previously stated by Rumen Draganov, a director at the Institute for Analysis and Assessments in Tourism, as reported by the media.

“If we end the year with around 13 million foreign visitors in total, we will surpass the level of 2019, when there were 12.5 million. During the winter, there were many satisfied tourists, not only in winter sports and spa segments, but also in cultural tourism in historical urban areas and other types, like visiting friends and relatives. We have an excess in accommodation and continue construction works,” stated Draganov.

Foto: Facebook

Nessebar Strategy

The 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in September 2023, when the proposal to include the city of Nessebar on the List of World Heritage in Danger will be voted on, according to local authorities in Nessebar. This move is part of Sofia authorities’ strategy to strengthen the country’s image, especially after the COVID pandemic and the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.

In a report released in July, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) launched this proposal as Bulgaria failed to implement previous recommendations regarding the preservation of the authenticity of the old city.

One of the recommendations is the decommissioning of the port and marina facilities beyond the limits of the peninsula where the old city is located. This recommendation was deemed unacceptable because the port serves a traditional function for Nessebar, existing before the Old Town was designated as a World Heritage site in 1983, according to the Nessebar Municipality.

Local authorities also added that the Port Authority objects to this recommendation as the city’s ports have sustained the local community’s livelihood for a long time and are part of the peninsula’s history. Decommissioning the ports would affect the lives of the local population and their millennia-old connection with the sea.

The latest ICOMOS monitoring report also identifies the absence of a plan for conserving and managing Nessebar as a World Heritage site.

However, local authorities contend that the report did not consider several projects implemented for conserving and restoring medieval churches, as well as upcoming projects mentioned in Nessebar Municipality’s plans for managing the old city.

“Nessebar will maintain its status as a World Heritage site. The measure to designate it as a heritage site in danger is aimed at preserving its cultural heritage. The historic center of Vienna is currently on the list. The designation of Venice as a heritage site in danger will also be on the agenda in the Riyadh meeting, along with other historical, archaeological, and natural sites from various parts of the world. I believe Nessebar will never lose its status as a World Heritage site, but the public, local and central authorities must understand that our most important role is as guardians of a unique and culturally unparalleled landmark,” wrote the mayor of Nessebar, Nikolai Dimitrov.

Foto: wikipedia
Foto: wikipedia

Bulgarian Effort

Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov will host the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Prime Minister of Romania, Marcel Ciolacu, on October 9 at the Euxinograd Residence (near Varna). President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the Republic of Moldova, Maia Sandu, have also been invited. This meeting was set during Prime Minister Denkov’s one-day visit to Athens, as announced by the Sofia government’s press office.

The Bulgarian side hopes that by expediting the construction of infrastructure between these states, tourism will also benefit.

The main subject of discussions near Varna will be regional connectivity, particularly the project for a corridor from Thessaloniki via Kavala, Alexandroupolis, Burgas, and Varna to Constanța, with a possible extension to the Republic of Moldova. The idea is to build modern transportation, communication, and energy infrastructure along this route, which will strengthen economic and political ties between the involved countries. The future corridor will function even more efficiently if all the countries along the route become members of the Schengen Area and borders between them are eliminated.

Joining the Schengen Area is considered vital by Bulgaria to boost Bulgarian tourism, given that the Balkan state relies significantly on this sector.”

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Bulgaria-Romania: Bridges, Nuclear Energy and Strategic Military Partnership

Bulgaria-Romania: Bridges, Nuclear Energy and Strategic Military Partnership

Collaboration within NATO, the issue of Schengen Area accession, as well as the complex geopolitical realities of the Balkans and the Black Sea region, compel the authorities in Sofia and Bucharest to collaborate much more deeply than they currently do. Moving beyond the evident collaboration challenges, exacerbated by decades of mutual mistrust and a provincial mindset specific to the two political elites, the two EU and NATO member states must swiftly identify a path to solidify their strategic partnership and reinvigorate joint efforts for Schengen Area integration. The recent visit of Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov to Bucharest appears to be giving a boost to bilateral relations.

10 billions leva

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is interested in investing in the construction of a second bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu, as well as in railway infrastructure projects in Bulgaria. This was revealed during a meeting between the Minister of Transport and Communications, Georgi Gvozdeykov, and the EBRD representative in Bulgaria, Anca Ionescu, as reported by the Bulgarian Ministry of Transport and cited by the Romanian media.

“The construction of a new bridge over the Danube is a top priority that needs to be addressed quickly, as traffic along this route is increasing daily. We believe that Bulgaria and Romania, as two countries in the European family, should work together in partnership with the European Commission to implement this strategic project,” said the Minister of Transport. He added that any support that will help implement investments under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) and other European programs in the transport sector is important. “We have the necessary financial instruments, which provide us with significant opportunities to achieve our objectives, but we need to significantly accelerate the implementation activities,” Minister Georgi Gvozdeykov added.

So far, the EBRD has invested over 10 billion leva in transport projects in Bulgaria, which is approximately 5 billion euros. Its priority is a second bridge over the Danube at Ruse-Giurgiu, which is becoming increasingly important at the European level, said Ionescu, adding that she is prepared for future discussions on the construction of a maritime logistics hub at the Varna-West port. Regarding green transport, the EBRD wants to invest in both the rehabilitation of railway infrastructure and the construction of electric vehicle charging stations.

Gvozdeykov emphasized that the Ministry is ready, at the expert level, to immediately consider all EBRD proposals, taking into account the projects already planned under European support programs.

The Schengen Objective

The “excellent” relations between Romania and Bulgaria are confirmed by the existence of a strategic partnership agreed upon by the two countries, stated Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu during a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart, Nikolai Denkov, who was on a working visit to Bucharest.

“Today, I discussed with Prime Minister Denkov the excellent relations between our countries, which are now confirmed by the existence of a strategic partnership agreed upon in March of this year by the presidents of both states. We had a substantial exchange of opinions regarding common priorities with the aim of unlocking new areas of cooperation for the economic development of our countries. Our discussions touched on areas that have an impact on our citizens, such as transportation and energy,” said Ciolacu.

He highlighted the interest shown by both parties in implementing the European project that will ensure navigable waters on the Danube, as well as in building a second road bridge between Giurgiu and Ruse.

“Secondly, in the energy sector, we are considering better interconnection of natural gas transportation corridors, as well as a joint effort to diversify energy sources, in line with the proposal from the European Union for the green transition,” conveyed Marcel Ciolacu.

According to him, the discussions also covered the expansion of the Schengen Area and the completion of Romania and Bulgaria’s accession process “as soon as possible.”

“Already, following the recent installation of the governments of Romania and Bulgaria, our countries have made additional efforts to achieve this goal. We are still committed to strengthening European migration management tools and protecting external borders. (…) We agreed to maintain direct dialogue between us, as well as with other European partners,” stated Ciolacu.

The head of the Bucharest government further emphasized the interest in continuing close cooperation to promote stability and security in the Black Sea region. “Additionally, I discussed with Prime Minister Denkov the security situation in the Black Sea region, which has been deeply affected by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. I emphasized the interest in continuing close cooperation between Romania and Bulgaria to promote stability and security in the Black Sea region and keeping the allied attention on security developments in this area,” said Ciolacu.

Strategic Bridges

The construction of a second bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu has gained a new dimension with the onset of the war in Ukraine, stated Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov after talks with Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu at the Victoria Palace. However, until the project is completed, the Bulgarian official advocates for the swift operation of a ferry line between the two cities to handle the intense traffic.

“For years, we have been discussing a second bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu. It is a very important route that connects Bulgaria to the capital of Bucharest. This route has gained new significance with the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. It is part of the logistical direction concerning the preparation of NATO’s eastern flank defense, and we have every reason to accelerate the planning, design, and preparation process for this bridge as soon as possible. That’s why we discussed possible sources of funding. Both states want this to happen as soon as possible. At the same time, given that this task still requires time, we have raised the issue of putting the Ruse-Giurgiu ferry line into operation as soon as possible, so that we can assist this intense traffic, which is closely linked to the highly developed business relations between the two states. Additionally, we want to assist tourists traveling in both directions,” said Nikolai Denkov.

Regarding accession to the Schengen Area, Nikolai Denkov emphasized that Romania and Bulgaria have met all the accession criteria and stressed that this process should be finalized jointly by the two states. “This is my first working visit, and it is not by chance that it takes place in Romania. We are strategic partners, and it’s not just because we have a signed agreement in this regard, but there are several projects that need to be completed, considering that they benefit our people and our states, which also have a European dimension. We need to make up for the short time we have with much more intense activity. (…) First of all, Schengen. We unanimously agree that we have met all the criteria set by the European Union, and it is not by chance that we have a positive decision from the European Commission and the European Parliament. We need to finalize the process, and we need to do it together, through discussions, both at the political and expert levels, with those states that still have some reservations. We have made concrete action plans between our Interior Ministries and Border Police, both at the political and expert levels, and we will work together with you to ensure a positive outcome for this process,” explained the Bulgarian Prime Minister.

“Clearly, we need to be very careful about what we tell our people in our countries because not everything depends on us. There are internal processes, both in the Netherlands and Austria, over which we have no control. But we need to do everything within our control and convey these things, both at the European level and to the governments and parliaments of the Netherlands and Austria,” added Nikolai Denkov, as reported by the Romanian media.

Military Partnership

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis declared at the end of the NATO Summit held in Vilnius that anti-air defense needs to be strengthened, emphasizing that Romania will play an important role through the regional training hub for F-16 pilots to be constructed in Romania, in collaboration with the Netherlands and other international partners.

“We have explored new possibilities for cooperation within NATO and with the Alliance’s partners to facilitate the development of capabilities and the defense industry, efforts that also favor the revitalization of Romania’s defense industry. We must strengthen our air defense. Therefore, we have decided to establish, in Romania, alongside the Netherlands and other international partners, a regional hub for training Romanian F-16 pilots, but this hub will also be accessible to allied and Ukrainian pilots. It is an important role that Romania has assumed,” said the head of state at the end of the NATO Summit.

He also announced at the NATO Summit the creation, alongside Bulgaria, of a regional Command dedicated to special forces, which is open to allies and partners.

The two defense ministers, Angel Tîlvăr and his Bulgarian counterpart, Todor Tagarev, signed a letter of intent for the joint establishment of a regional component command for special operations (R-SOCC). The event took place on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, marking the importance of the Pontic region for the North Atlantic Alliance.

Tîlvăr highlighted the excellent cooperation between Romania and Bulgaria in the field of defense, both bilaterally and as allies and Europeans. He also expressed gratitude to his Bulgarian counterpart for Sofia’s constant commitment to regional security and for the participation of Bulgarian troops in projects carried out under NATO’s auspices in Romania, within multinational commands.

“Recognizing the strategic importance of the Black Sea region and the fact that this region has become a critical frontier for the new European and Euro-Atlantic security architecture, Romania and Bulgaria have decided to advance cooperation within the Alliance context by establishing this regional command for special operations. The regional component command for special operations will be part of the measures to enhance deterrence and defense on the Eastern Flank,” conveyed the Romanian Ministry of Defense in Bucharest, as reported by the media.

As a sign of the good military collaboration between the two states, Bulgaria has sent soldiers and two ships (the minehunter TSIBAR and the mine clearance diving support vessel SHKVAL), which will participate in the annual “Poseidon 2023” exercise, alternately organized by Romania and Bulgaria from July 14 to 21.

“Over 750 military personnel from the Romanian Navy, other national defense structures, as well as from Bulgaria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States (NAVEUR, Alabama National Guard), and Turkey will carry out joint activities in the Military Port of Constanta and in the training areas in the western part of the Black Sea, as part of the ‘Poseidon 2023’ multinational tactical-level exercise, organized annually alternately by Romania and Bulgaria,” according to the source.

The main objectives of the “Poseidon 2023” exercise include increasing interoperability among participating forces, as well as evaluating and certifying the capabilities of the Romanian Navy for NATO and EU missions and for national defense activities.

“Furthermore, ‘Poseidon 2023’ focuses on enhancing operational capabilities and the level of training for all participating forces, practicing NATO combat procedures in a multinational maritime, land, and air environment, using NATO engagement rules and procedures for command, control, and communications. The exercise represents a good opportunity to consolidate the high level of planning, leadership, and evaluation activities specific to mine warfare, surface warfare, and anti-air warfare,” the statement further mentioned.

During the exercise, the Romanian Navy will also carry out specific evaluation and verification activities for the frigate “Regina Maria” (F-222) for NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force (NRF 23) and the unique force package made available to NATO and the EU by Romania.

Schengen Bombshell

The European Parliament has recently adopted a resolution based on a petition submitted to the European Parliament by civil society in Romania, calling for the legality of Austria’s veto against Romania’s accession to the Schengen Area to be challenged. Additionally, the resolution calls on the European Commission to calculate the financial losses suffered by Romania and Bulgaria due to their non-admission to Schengen and to find mechanisms for compensation. The document was adopted with 526 votes in favor, 57 votes against, and 42 abstentions, as reported by the media.

The European Parliament emphasizes that Romania and Bulgaria have already met the necessary requirements for admission to the Schengen Area. Members of the European Parliament regret the decision of the EU Council on December 8, 2022, to reject Schengen membership “without providing any legal justification related to the accession criteria.” An expanded Schengen Area, without border controls, would make the EU stronger, say MEPs, noting that all member states have the right to join Schengen once they are ready.

The fact that Romania and Bulgaria are still outside the Schengen area is a burden on businesses and the population of both countries from a social and economic perspective, according to MEPs. Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania are discriminated against as they face delays, bureaucratic difficulties, and additional costs when traveling or doing business abroad compared to their counterparts in the Schengen Area. MEPs note that delays at border crossings experienced by Romanians and Bulgarians can range from hours to several days, compared to an average of 10 minutes without border checks at internal borders, worsening working conditions for truck drivers.

In addition to the harm caused to the EU single market by obstructing the free movement of goods between EU member states, the text mentions the “irreparable damage” to the environment, which does not align with the European Union’s climate neutrality goals. The health of truck drivers, customs officers, and people living near border crossings is endangered by the increased pollution caused by the numerous vehicles waiting to cross the border every day, with approximately 46,000 tons of CO2 emitted each year, according to MEPs.

The resolution calls on the European Commission to estimate the financial losses, unrealized gains, and environmental damage suffered by Romania and Bulgaria since June 2011 due to the “negative and unjustified decision” regarding the accession of the two countries to the Schengen Area and to explore possible mechanisms for compensating financial losses.

Russian propaganda

Eurodeputies underline that the current situation “is being instrumentalized by anti-EU propaganda, including Russian propaganda,” and “undermines the EU’s ability to promote its values and good governance in countries outside the EU.” Currently, all EU member states, except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, and Romania, are part of the Schengen Area of free movement, which also includes non-EU states (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein). The European Commission has assessed that Bulgaria and Romania are ready to join Schengen, and the European Parliament has consistently supported the accession of these two countries, most recently in a resolution on October 5, 2022, and in a debate on December 14, 2022.

Renowned Bulgarian analyst Vladimir Mitev recently stated, as quoted by Bulgarian media, that “my feeling is that Romania feels somewhat stronger, in the sense that the resolution clearly states that Austria violates certain principles of the European Union, which was also written in Nicolescu’s petition. And it speaks, as you mentioned earlier, about the discrimination against Bulgarians and Romanians, but also about compensation. That is, this resolution now shows a clear political will, with over 80% of MEPs voting in favor of not allowing Austria to further delay the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, namely in Romania. On the one hand, I believe there is still a bit of hope.

But, to continue the reasoning, I think Romania continues to be very cautious in their enthusiasm for Schengen. They are much more reserved. It seems to me, rather than the opinions in the Bulgarian press, maybe because last December, when the accession was last voted on, there was enthusiasm in Romania that was not justified. Then it took a different turn. So-called sovereignist opinions about the EU developed in response to Romania’s rejection of being accepted into Schengen. And that’s maybe why Romania is now very cautious.”

Foto: wikipedia
Foto: wikipedia

Parliamentary Diplomacy

Acceptance into the Schengen Area, stability in the Black Sea region, and the construction of a third bridge across the Danube River between Romania and Bulgaria were topics discussed during a recent meeting between the Ambassador of Bulgaria, Radko Vlaykov, and the President of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, Deputy Biro Rozalia-Ibolya (UDMR Bihor).

“We discussed the possibilities of expanding bilateral cooperation between Bulgaria and Romania, taking into account not only foreign policy but also certain priorities such as accession to the Schengen Area,” stated the President of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Chamber of Deputies. The meeting took place before the visit of the Bulgarian Prime Minister.

In light of Bulgaria having a new coalition government for only ten days, the initiative by Ambassador Radko Vlaykov to seek a permanent partnership and collaboration with Romanian parliamentary structures (the Committees on Foreign Policy, European Affairs, and others) is of great importance, according to her.

“Of course, on the one hand, we have common interests regarding stability in the Black Sea region, which is currently a priority, and equally important is our acceptance into the Schengen Area. Both our countries find themselves in this situation, but that doesn’t mean we are tied together, as each has its own path in this process. However, the interest is indeed for both of us to enter the Schengen Area as soon as possible. That’s why I considered it necessary to discuss this possibility, the project of a third bridge over the Danube, and ensuring navigability on the river. We also talked about organizing a joint online meeting in September between the leadership of the two Foreign Policy Committees from Romania and Bulgaria,” added Romanian parliamentarian Biro Rozalia-Ibolya, as reported by the media.

Nuclear Brotherhood

Romanian and Bulgarian officials participated in a meeting of the 12 EU member states that are in favor of nuclear energy. This event took place on the sidelines of the informal meeting of EU Energy Ministers in Valladolid, Spain, on July 12th. Ministers from France, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden attended, while Belgium and Italy participated as observers.

Participants reaffirmed the crucial role of nuclear energy in ensuring the stability and resilience of the electricity grid across the European energy market. They expressed the view that nuclear technologies and renewable energy sources complement each other in achieving the EU’s climate and energy security objectives. The ministers prepared a joint document addressed to the European Commission, requesting recognition and appropriate support for nuclear energy. They argued that the principles of technological neutrality and the sovereign right of member states to determine their energy mix should be duly considered in European policies.

In a meeting with his Greek counterpart, Theodoros Skylakakis, Minister Radev discussed deepening energy cooperation and the strategic development of energy links between the two countries. Enhancing gas supply security through the development of necessary infrastructure, including key projects such as the liquefied natural gas terminal near Alexandroupolis, the Greece-Bulgaria gas interconnector, the Alexandroupolis-Burgas oil pipeline, and hydrogen-related initiatives, were also discussed.

The strengthening of bilateral cooperation in electricity and gas connectivity was a topic of discussion between Minister Radev and the Romanian Secretary of State in the Ministry of Energy, Dan-Dragos Drăgan.

Common Interests

Romanian Minister of Agriculture, Florin-Ionuţ Barbu, will join his Bulgarian counterpart in Warsaw for a meeting of Agriculture Ministers. The primary agenda will be to find solutions related to the transportation of cereals, given the context of the war in Ukraine. They will also discuss the release of deposits and the export of a portion of the new harvest for Romanian farmers.

According to a statement from the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR), Minister Barbu will participate in the meeting of agriculture ministers from Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Moldova, and Ukraine in Warsaw. The main topic will be the situation on agricultural markets due to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the measures that need to be taken to ensure fair competition rules for farmers in EU member states and candidate countries.

At the end of the meeting, participants will sign a joint declaration by the Agriculture Ministers of Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia regarding the necessity of extending EU preventive measures on certain products originating from Ukraine.

Poland and Slovakia have called for a further extension of the embargo on Ukrainian cereals until the end of this year, dismissing concerns that Russia’s decision to terminate an international agreement on the Black Sea corridor could disrupt food supplies. Both countries, along with Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, currently impose restrictions on the purchase of cereals from Ukraine until mid-September, following protests by farmers in these five countries due to the influx of cheap Ukrainian cereals. The EU agreement still allows the transit of cereals from Ukraine to other countries.

“I see no compelling argument for the current embargo to expire in mid-September. I hope that the embargo will not end, that we will be able to get its extension within our coalition of five EU member states,” said Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus in a radio interview on Tuesday.

The European Commission had previously signaled its intention to gradually reduce and eliminate the “exceptional and temporary” restrictions affecting Eastern European member states. Furthermore, after Russia terminated an international agreement on the Black Sea corridor on Monday, Brussels announced that it would spare no effort to support the stable delivery of agricultural products from Ukraine to global markets through so-called corridors of solidarity.

Foto: wikipedia
Foto: wikipedia

Grateful Ukraine

Recently, the leader of Kiev, Volodymyr Zelensky, conducted an official visit to Sofia, where he obtained a promise from Bulgaria’s new pro-European Prime Minister, Nikolai Denkov, to increase the military assistance that Bulgaria provides to Ukraine in its war with Russia.

The two leaders did not detail the agreed-upon military aid in front of the press, nor did they specify the types of weapons and ammunition that would be included. Zelensky only mentioned it as a “defensive package, not an offensive one,” also noting that it includes artillery. Bulgaria is a major producer of ammunition compatible with Soviet-designed weapons used by the Ukrainian military.

The topic of military aid for Ukraine is a contentious issue in Bulgaria, a country with strong traditional ties to Russia. While former pro-Western Prime Minister Kiril Petkov (who was ousted by a vote of no confidence last year) strongly supported providing military aid to Ukraine, President Rumen Radev opposed it.

Despite the President’s opposition, the Bulgarian government has been delivering arms and ammunition to Ukraine since the early days of the Russian invasion, albeit through third-party states. Since then, the Bulgarian arms industry has been operating at maximum capacity and had record exports of around four billion euros last year.

“We cannot sit with folded arms in the face of what is happening just hundreds of kilometers from our borders,” said the new Prime Minister, Nikolai Denkov, explaining his agreement for Bulgaria to further support Ukraine with military aid following his discussion with Zelensky.

Zelensky also met with his Bulgarian counterpart, Rumen Radev, who remained reserved about providing military aid to Kiev. He expressed concerns about the depletion of Bulgarian army stocks and the fueling of the conflict with Russia. “This conflict has no military solution and will not be resolved with more weapons,” remarked the Bulgarian president, who called for a constant effort toward de-escalation, ceasefire, and a peaceful diplomatic solution.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in Sofia, “I want to thank you, Bulgaria, for supporting and protecting our people.”

Zelensky expressed gratitude for Bulgaria’s support in the defense sector, emphasizing that this assistance is for defense, not offense. “This is a package for parents to protect their children,” said the Ukrainian president, adding that discussions would continue regarding the ongoing treatment of wounded Ukrainian soldiers in Bulgaria and the training of medical personnel in Bulgaria.

The Ukrainian president called on Bulgaria to participate in the reconstruction of Ukraine in the fields of education and the environment. He also discussed energy cooperation as part of the stability architecture in both countries. “We must protect people from price crises,” said Zelensky, expressing satisfaction that energy is becoming one of the priorities of cooperation between Bulgaria and Ukraine. He mentioned that the two parties also discussed cooperation in the field of European and Atlantic integration and signed a declaration. “I would like to note Bulgaria’s willingness to participate in these efforts,” said Zelensky, noting that consultations had been launched at the level of advisors and ambassadors and that issues were beginning to be discussed at the ambassadorial level in Bulgaria. Zelensky mentioned that Bulgaria’s ambassador to Ukraine has not yet been appointed, adding that he would comment on this matter in his meeting with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev.

Current Issues

Among the issues between Bulgaria and Romania is the matter of Romanian truckers transiting the Balkan state.

Romanian road transporters are required to park their trucks in Ruse, a location near the Romanian border, to be able to cross the border. However, they are forced to use parking spaces managed by a private operator who applies discriminatory and excessive fees for Romanian trucks compared to Bulgarian ones, according to the National Union of Road Hauliers from Romania (UNTRR), as reported by the media.

The truck parking in Ruse was put into operation in June and is located near the border crossing point with Romania at Giurgiu.

“While the road transport industry is requesting the elimination of controls at the Romanian-Bulgarian border crossing points and the creation of special lanes to facilitate the passage of cars and trucks registered in Romania and Bulgaria, paradoxically, the Bulgarian authorities have supported the development of a private truck parking area on the municipality’s land in Ruse. It started operating this year in June without any official announcement, public information, or contact details on the web, email, or in the media,” the UNTRR stated.

According to UNTRR, upon entering the parking area, each truck receives a pager that vibrates and rings to notify the driver 10 minutes before it’s their turn to cross the border.

Additionally, Romanian drivers are required to pay a discriminatory fee of 25 euros compared to Bulgarian drivers, who pay a fee three to four times lower, at only 15 Bulgarian leva, approximately 7 euros.

On the other hand, Romanian hauliers complain that in Ruse, Bulgarian and Ukrainian transporters are given priority, sometimes even without entering this parking area. If they are the last to enter, they exit first ahead of those waiting, even after 24 hours.

“This coordinated approach by the Bulgarian authorities violates the principles and regulations of the EU that prohibit differentiated and discriminatory taxation of transporters based on nationality. In the absence of any measures, this practice will expand, and border authorities will create longer waiting times to justify the establishment of such abusive and discriminatory practices, contrary to the objectives of increasing the fluidity of traffic for various means of transportation within the Community, as established by European Regulation No. 1,100/2008, which provides for the elimination of border controls between EU member states in road transport,” UNTRR representatives argue.

“Unfortunately, Bulgaria’s actions are contrary to statements of collaboration with Romanian authorities to expedite the accession of the two countries to the Schengen Area,” the statement concludes.

Strong Threats

In 2022, there were frequent situations where Romanian truck drivers had to wait for up to three days to cross this border point, according to UNTRR representatives.

UNTRR believes that the actions of the Bulgarian authorities, by imposing the mandatory use of this parking area and differentiated taxation, represent discrimination that should not exist within the European Union. “If Bulgaria continues these practices, then we believe that Romania should decouple from Bulgaria for the purpose of joining the Schengen Area. Romania has nothing to lose in its relationship with Bulgaria, where border crossing times are increasing anyway. Romania can benefit from the elimination of waiting times at the border with Hungary, through which over 90% of Romania’s foreign trade road transport with EU countries is conducted,” stated the organization’s representatives.

UNTRR will continue to bring these issues to the attention of the members of the Romanian Parliament, the European Parliament, the relevant Bulgarian authorities, and the competition authorities until this situation is resolved.

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The Black Sea, closer to the Schengen Area, in 2023?

The Black Sea, closer to the Schengen Area, in 2023?

European officials are preparing to admit Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen Area this year, starting with air borders in October 2023, followed by the abolishment of border controls at land borders by January 1, 2024, according to some official sources cited by the media. As an alternative measure, the possibility of establishing a Romanian-Bulgarian mini-Schengen has also been proposed. In an interview with the publication ‘Podul Prieteniei,’ Romanian professor and political expert Sergiu Mișcoiu pointed out that the idea has its merits, and a small Schengen would benefit transportation companies, Romanian tourists, and also demonstrate the ‘Europeanness’ of both countries.

Dutch Opposition

According to official sources in Sofia, cited by Euractiv, Bulgaria has serious chances, if it exerts diplomatic pressure and demonstrates the willingness to continue reforms, to obtain Schengen accession as early as October this year, with air borders, and the prospect of full-fledged membership with land borders by January 2024. Until a month ago, the biggest obstacle to Bulgaria’s entry into Schengen was the opposition from the Netherlands. Mark Rutte’s government has informally signaled that it appreciates the efforts of the Bulgarian Parliament and the last four governments to initiate a genuine judicial reform by introducing an independent mechanism to investigate the chief prosecutor, which was adopted at the end of May. Former Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who did not have a particularly good reputation in Brussels, became the first victim of the new legislation after being dismissed from office last week. A continuation of the cleaning of the judicial system is expected. The second major reason for removing obstacles to Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen is the election of a government in Sofia after a prolonged political crisis during which President Rumen Radev appointed an interim government. The government is composed of ministers from the We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition, supported by GERB, represented by Deputy Prime Minister Mariya Gabriel. Among other things, the new government has declared its intention to review Radev’s policy towards Ukraine and has decided that the country will be represented at the future NATO summit by Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, rather than the president. According to sources, the country’s European partners hope that common major objectives, including Schengen and the Eurozone accession, will keep the coalition united. In July, the European Commission will publish a report within the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, at the insistence of the Netherlands. The report is expected to be generally positive, acknowledging the political will to continue reforms.

Vienna Wants Fences

Austria’s objections to the Schengen expansion amid the refugee crisis have not diminished, but Vienna is expected not to use its veto right if isolated. Last December, Austria and the Netherlands blocked Bulgaria’s accession to Schengen. Regarding Romania, only Austria opposed. Romania’s new Prime Minister, Marcel Ciolacu, announced earlier this week in an interview with EURACTIV that he has asked his ministers for a plan to persuade Austria to lift its veto on Romania’s Schengen membership. The next major goal of Bulgarian institutions is the country’s accession to the Eurozone by January 1, 2025. While the Netherlands demands that Bulgarian authorities demonstrate their fight against corruption and their commitment to judicial reform, Austria’s requirements seem much harder to implement. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has tried hard to secure European funds for the construction of a fence along the Bulgaria-Turkey border, a proposal rejected by the European Commission. Earlier this month, the EU Executive granted new financial assistance to Romania and Bulgaria for the implementation of already launched pilot projects for border management. The aid for Bulgaria amounts to 45 million euros, and for Romania – 10.8 million euros. Furthermore, the European Commission welcomes the progress made in the last three months by both countries in respecting asylum policies and the return of illegal immigrants, border management, and international cooperation – progress that should alleviate Austria’s concerns that Sofia and Bucharest are not doing enough for the registration of illegal migrants.

Alternative Strategy Bulgarian

MEP Andrey Novakov has called on Bulgaria and Romania to remove barriers at their common border crossings in protest if their accession to the Schengen area continues to be denied, according to reports from BTA, as cited by media in Bucharest. “My proposal is that, in the event that we do not enter Schengen, we should bilaterally address border controls between Bulgaria and Romania and remove barriers (between the two countries) without violating European legislation. This is possible and should be done, including as a protest,” Novakov said at a forum on transportation, digitalization, smart cities, and food security held in Sofia on Thursday. The event is organized by and 3E News, with the BTA news agency as a media partner. Andrey Novakov emphasized that there are not many bridges across the Danube between Bulgaria and Romania because Romania’s strategy is to develop its infrastructure westward towards Hungary, not south towards Bulgaria. On the other hand, Bulgaria’s major Danube cities are smaller than their Romanian counterparts, and there is a lack of interest in connecting them, according to Novakov. According to the MEP, there is funding available for building bridges over the Danube, but there is no willingness to construct them. Bulgaria should convince Romania that they have an EU member country to their south, and such infrastructure would be in its interest. Regional Initiative In turn, local councilors from Giurgiu and Ruse recently signed a joint declaration and letter during a joint Romanian-Bulgarian meeting regarding the importance of Schengen accession, which will be transmitted to the prime ministers and foreign affairs ministers of the two countries. “Sixteen years after simultaneous EU accession, after more than two decades of cooperation that has generated the development and modernization of our two communities, today we find ourselves, together, in a symbiosis that characterizes us, on a common path to the Schengen Area, a priority road with a series of not-to-be-missed opportunities for the Euroregion. Today, we address a letter to the two governments because the Schengen label would bring new opportunities to Romania and Bulgaria, and because citizens have the right to good governance! As we commit in the joint declaration, together we must become a common voice that says the two countries need and deserve to join the Schengen Area!” said Adrian Anghelescu, Mayor of Giurgiu Municipality.

“Our connectivity is not decided by presidents, prime ministers, or EU leaders. Our connection comes quite naturally from individual to individual, from friendship, our daily contacts, and our work together. For years, Ruse and Giurgiu have continuously demonstrated how barriers can be removed through dialogue and partnership. Among us, as citizens on both sides of the border, such a strong connection has been formed that politicians and administrators now have to go through a series of steps to transform it into documents,” said Pencho Milkov, Mayor of Ruse Municipality, from the tribune of the ‘Nicolae Balanescu’ Athenaeum. Lili Gancheva, Executive Director of the Danubius Euroregion Association, also said that the formula for the success of this initiative lies in trust, acceptance, and continuity. “As stated in the Joint Declaration we support, I believe the key to success is to be together because that’s how we can form a common voice to be heard! We deserve and should be in the Schengen Area!” she said. In the joint letter signed by all municipal councilors from Giurgiu and Ruse and to be submitted to the Prime Minister of Romania, Marcel Ciolacu, and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Nikolai Denkov, as well as the foreign affairs ministers of the two countries, it is emphasized that accession to the Schengen area is “essential for the change it will bring to the region”

Foto: Facebook

Political Reform

In a move aimed at facilitating accession to the Schengen area, Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council has voted to dismiss the controversial Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, considered by many Bulgarians to be a staunch defender of the country’s mafia leaders and a key obstacle to the establishment of the rule of law, reports POLITICO. The Supreme Judicial Council, which is the highest judicial authority in Bulgaria, declared that it voted 16 to 4 in favor of his dismissal. The decision for his removal is now forwarded to President Rumen Radev, who must approve it but has no deadline to do so. Prior to the Supreme Judicial Council’s decision, Geshev had appeared on national television and refused to resign, attacking his parliamentary rivals whom he called “political garbage.” Geshev faced pressure to resign following allegations that an explosion near his vehicle in early May, described as an “assassination attempt,” was, in fact, staged. Bulgaria’s new government, which took office earlier this month, has promised to set the country on a path towards EU democratic norms. For many years, Bulgaria has been considered a “captured state” where oligarchs and their political patrons effectively operated with impunity, in collusion with organized crime groups. Geshev’s role, nicknamed “The Cap,” is particularly sensitive. During the massive anti-mafia protests in 2020, he was identified as a central figure in the judicial system ensuring that no major leaders were ever brought to justice. He had openly clashed with former allies, including former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. Faced with his imminent departure, Geshev accused his enemies of trying to assassinate him and began revealing a series of hidden investigations, including a money laundering case involving Borissov and the purchase of an expensive property in Barcelona. President Radev, who comes from the ranks of the socialists, has limited powers to oppose decisions of the Supreme Judicial Council but could delay Geshev’s departure to allow him to cause problems for the new government. Radev takes a softer stance toward Russia and is hostile to the reformist new government led by Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, which has committed to a more pro-NATO and pro-Ukraine stance.

Serious Issues

Bulgaria’s unicameral parliament had previously validated a pro-European government following a difficult compromise between the top two parliamentary parties, after more than two years of instability and five rounds of elections in this economically struggling Balkan country. The new Cabinet—comprised mainly of experts, led by researcher Nikolai Denkov—easily gained approval in Parliament, where it holds 132 out of 240 seats. Sixty-year-old Nikolai Denkov, a former Education Minister, designated by the reformist liberal coalition CC/BD, is set to govern for the next nine months. He is to be supported by former European Commissioner Maria Gabriel, nominated by the GERB (conservative) party of Boiko Borisov. Forty-four-year-old Maria Gabriel is expected to hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio and take over as head of the government in March 2024. The two political forces, which stood side by side in the legislative elections on April 2, announced on May 22 an agreement to end an unprecedented political impasse since the fall of communism in 1989. Negotiations nearly collapsed due to the release of recordings revealing strong enmity between the two sides. However, former rival Prime Ministers Boiko Borisov (GERB) and Kiril Petkov (CC) decided to put their differences aside due to the catastrophic situation of this EU and NATO member country. They share a pro-European stance against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in this historically Russia-friendly, divided country.”

Foto: Facebook

The Radev Enigma

The policies of the two sides are expected to diverge from the policies of the interim governments—which refused to provide direct military assistance to Kyiv—under the auspices of the Russophile President Rumen Radev. The Bulgarian head of state denounced this coalition in Parliament and urged them not to “betray the national interests” of Bulgaria. Among the priorities of the new Bulgarian government is the adoption of the budget, which has been postponed due to political disputes. Asen Vasilev, a Harvard-educated individual, has been appointed Minister of Finance and European Funds. The new government aims to reform the judiciary to improve the fight against corruption and has set the goal of joining the euro area and the Schengen Area “as quickly as possible.” Romanian Initiative MEP Nicu Ștefănuță recently stated that he received a response from the European Commission regarding an inquiry about Romania’s accession to the Schengen Area, in which they pledged to do everything in their power to ensure that, during 2023, the Council would adopt measures so that Romania and Bulgaria could join Schengen. “In response to an inquiry made by the Sibiu MEP Nicu Ștefănuță (Greens/EFA) regarding Schengen accession, the priority and the continuation of efforts to reduce waiting times at borders for Romanian citizens have been reconfirmed. On March 22, 2023, Nicu Ștefănuță sent a query to the Commission presenting a study that highlights the negative environmental impact caused by Romania’s non-membership in the Schengen Area. This study not only demonstrated financial losses in the billions of euros annually but also showed that vehicles, due to waiting times at the border, emit a significant amount of carbon dioxide. Specifically, it is estimated that 46,000 tons of carbon dioxide are emitted annually by vehicles waiting at the border controls simply because Romania and Bulgaria are not yet part of the Schengen Area,” the MEP said in an official statement. “The fact that we are not in Schengen costs us not only billions of euros annually but also our health and the health of our children because we are exposed to thousands of tons of carbon dioxide, just because we unnecessarily wait in customs queues! When will the humiliation end? When will we be treated like other Europeans?” said MEP Nicu Ștefănuță. Ultimately, the Commission responded with an official letter, stating the following words: “Expanding the Schengen area remains a political priority for the Commission, and in close collaboration with the Council Presidency and the European Parliament, we commit to doing everything in our power to ensure that, during the year 2023, the Council adopts the necessary measures as soon as possible so that Romania and Bulgaria can join the Schengen Area.

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