German newspaper Die Welt recently featured a joint interview with former Bulgarian prime minister Kiril Petkov and Ukraine’s foreign secretary Dmytro Kuleba. In an extraordinary set of revelations, Petkov admitted that, in the first half of 2022, his administration secretly supplied Ukraine with vast amounts of ammunition and fuel. The Ukrainian army needed these in order to repel Russia’s initial attempt to depose Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s democratic government and replace it with a Lukashenko-style pro-Kremlin puppet. The Burgas crude oil refinery, in Bulgaria’s Black Sea, was working full-time to supply the Ukrainian army with the energy they desperately needed to keep their aggressor at bay. Bulgaria did this in close collaboration with three NATO states: Poland, the USA, and the UK.
Western Europe lives in blissful ignorance of the ramifications of what took place in the subsequent months. The sequence of events is telling: Bulgaria’s government sustained Ukraine’s heroic resistance at a time when most of the West was busy prevaricating, after assessing their own ties with Russia. Most administrations and commentators expected Vladimir Putin’s ‘special military operation’ to become a lightning campaign, not unlike the occupation of Crimea in 2014. Zelenskyy was even offered ‘a lift’ out of his presidential bunker by American president Joe Biden.
Germany’s government, epitomising hypocritical cowardice and wedded to the toxic legacies of Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel, was trying to remain in Putin’s good books whilst paying lip service to their solidarity with Ukraine’s plight. In short, thanks in large part to Bulgaria, Russia’s strategy was thwarted. And then the USA, and the UK, kicked in with robust support for Zelenskyy’s troops and their effort to save their homeland from a brutal invader.
Removal of Bulgaria’s government
Petkov’s government was unceremoniously ousted in June by an obscure combination of oligarch and mafia-fuelled forces. An opaque vote of no confidence was triggered by his predecessor Boyko Borisov, leading to the collapse of Petkov’s pro-Western, anti-corruption, pro-NATO administration. Borisov’s vote of no confidence succeeded because it was supported by some junior partners in Petkov’s coalition: to be precise, by those most ‘vulnerable’ to the gravitational forces of Russia’s so-called ‘orbit of influence’. Borisov himself was the personal bodyguard to Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s last Soviet leader, and responsible for some of the most gruesome gulags of the 1980s. He is widely accused of having links with organised crime.
When Petkov’s cabinet knew that their days in office were counted, they withdrew mountains of documents from the country, in fear that the incoming government would destroy them: Petkov’s main mission was to rid Bulgaria of its ingrained, incapacitating corruption, linked to the inertial power of an oligarchic mafia largely dependent on Moscow. Countless police and military vans left Sofia’s ministries during the Spring of 2022, in hope of making these files available to the European Court of Justice.
All of this has gone largely unnoticed west of Berlin: a democratic EU27 government was removed after helping Ukraine resist Russia’s aggression. Yet even today, a year into Putin’s despicable war, EU governments keep applying the handbrakes on aiding Ukraine in the battlefield, most infamously, thanks to Germany’s stubborn refusal to allow its NATO allies to supply Ukraine with their Leopard tanks.
Russia is a terrorist state and won’t be appeased. It can only be defeated. The sooner Chancellor Scholz, and President Macron, realise that, the better. How can we even think of an EU army when we rely on the USA and the UK to defend our borders? How can we take our political union seriously if we barely bat an eyelid after one of our 27 governments was removed by Russia’s tentacles? The answers to these questions have existential consequences for the European Union and, most importantly, for millions of innocent Ukrainian citizens.
Carlos Conde Solares is an Associate Professor in History at the University of Northumbria (United Kingdom). He was living in Bulgaria during the events, as an International Fellow of the the Center for Advanced Studies, in Sofia. He is Chair of Foro de Profesores.