A week after Russia invaded Ukraine, Moscow Ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova went to Shipka to honor Russian tsarist soldiers who died there in battles for Bulgarian independence in the 19th century. However, her efforts to remind Bulgaria that she owes Russia for this were overshadowed by the current situation with the war in Ukraine, the New York Times writes.
A week after Russia invaded Ukraine, Moscow Ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova went to Shipka to honor Russian tsarist soldiers who died there in battles for Bulgarian independence in the 19th century.
However, her efforts to remind Bulgaria that she owes Russia for this were overshadowed by the current situation with the war in Ukraine, the New York Times writes.
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On the same day, Bulgaria declared two Russian spies, disguised as diplomats at the Russian Embassy in Sofia, persona non grata.
The arrest of a senior military general accused of spying for Russia was also announced.
General Valentin Tsankov is the suspect in spying for Russia
In the coming weeks, Bulgaria, a country long considered by Moscow to be its most ardent and reliable friend in Europe, has joined European Union member states in imposing tougher economic sanctions on Russia.
Bulgaria has also offered to repair broken military helicopters and tanks for Ukraine and expelled more Russian diplomats.
"Traditionally, Russia has always had a great influence here, but we were a big surprise to them. They do not understand what happened," Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said in an interview last week.
Bulgaria is a poor country, but it is of symbolic importance to Russia because of the close historical ties between the two countries.
However, the rapid deterioration of Bulgarian-Russian relations shows that the invasion of Ukraine ordered by Vladimir Putin is far from going according to plan, and not only on the battlefield.
It seems that Russia is furious and sees Bulgaria's behavior as insolence shown by a wayward friend.
That is why last month Gazprom abruptly cut off natural gas supplies to Bulgaria, making its former Balkan ally the first country to fall under Moscow's energy sanctions, along with Poland.
Russia will stop gas for Bulgaria from tomorrow
At the same time, Kiril Petkov said that Moscow had launched cyberattacks, including one against Bulgarian Posts.
"We are currently under heavy attack," he said, describing it as "a clear attempt to destabilize the Bulgarian government by fueling internal unrest".
According to him, by stopping the gas for Bulgaria, Russia aims to create a situation in which energy prices will skyrocket, as a result of which the government will fall.
The survival of Petkov's cabinet depends very much on how and whether the prime minister will be able to ensure the country's energy stability.
The New York Times notes that the current Bulgarian coalition government is very fragile.
The publication reminds that Kiril Petkov was on a two-day visit to the United States, where Vice President Kamala Harris promised solidarity with Bulgaria "before Russia's latest attempt to use energy as a weapon."
Petkov met with US Vice President, contracts gas supplies at prices lower than Gazprom's
Asen Vassilev, Bulgaria's finance minister and deputy prime minister, insisted that Bulgaria is already on track to provide substitute supplies of Azeri gas through sea deliveries of liquefied natural gas to terminals in neighboring Greece.
"Obviously for us, Gazprom is already in the past," he said in an interview.
From the rift between Bulgaria and Russia, it is clear that the volatile progress on the battlefield is often accompanied by failures on the diplomatic front for Moscow.
Russia has kept China aside and garnered support in Africa and parts of Latin America, but has shown a striking ability to lose friends in other countries.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for example, recently infuriated many people in Israel by claiming that Jews were "the biggest anti-Semites" and that Hitler was of Jewish descent.
President Putin later apologized to Israel.
Israel apologizes after Lavrov's statement that Hitler had Jewish roots
Russia's ambassador to Sofia, Eleonora Mitrofanova, scored an own goal, calling Bulgaria a "Euro-Atlantic underpinning" in a Facebook post.
The Russian embassy later explained this with a mistranslation.
The Bulgarian prime minister said he had summoned the ambassador, telling her that "there are many good dictionaries around".
He eventually received an apology.
He added that he was still unhappy that Moscow's envoy was "behaving not like a diplomat but like a propaganda machine."
In March, Bulgaria recalled its ambassador from Moscow in response to Ms.'s "undiplomatic, sharp and rude" statements.
Mitrofanova: If it were not for the USSR, Bulgaria today would be only Sofia region
Poland is also surprised by Russia's ability to ignore public sentiment.
The Russian embassy in Warsaw, a city full of Ukrainian flags and insulting billboards aimed at Putin, last week urged residents to join Russian diplomats in the May 9 events on Victory Day.
On Saturday, after a public protest, the embassy canceled plans for joint public events with Poles.
In a statement, the embassy also lamented Poland's ingratitude to Moscow for its role in defeating the Nazis, "thanks to which the Polish state exists today!" red paint.
The Russian ambassador to Poland was flooded with red paint
Russia's ambassador to Sofia, Mitrofanova, has infuriated even pro-Russian Bulgarians by claiming that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is no different from its tsarist-era military intervention against the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, which helped Bulgaria become an independent nation.
"There were times when Russia liberated Bulgaria, now is the time for Russia to liberate Donetsk and Luhansk," the ambassador said.
According to Daniela Koleva, a historian at Sofia University, this comparison "caused a wave of outrage" by presenting a one-sided view of history.
She added that many Bulgarians acknowledge that their country benefited from Russian aid in the 19th century and still feel some gratitude.
But also that Bulgaria has bitter recent memories of Russian attacks on its Black Sea coast during World War I and of Soviet occupation after World War II.
"There is a lot of mythology about Russia," she said, adding that more than four decades of Soviet-imposed communist rule had "systematically erased anything that might overshadow Russia or the Soviet Union."
Historian: The Red Army did not liberate us in 1944, but occupied us for three years
Opinion polls show that sympathy for Russia in Bulgaria is still stronger than elsewhere in Europe.
But according to a poll commissioned by Bulgarian state television in March, more than 60 per cent of Bulgarians support tougher sanctions against Moscow, and Putin's approval rating has fallen by more than half to about 25 per cent since Russia invaded Ukraine.
When the government submitted a resolution to parliament last week authorizing "military-technical assistance" to Ukraine, even the Socialist Party, the BSP, a longtime staunch supporter of Russia, voted in favor.
The only party to vote against was Vazrazhdane, a nationalist organization that organizes regular protests in support of Russia's invasion.
Kostadinov: Is the visit of the Bulgarian Prime Minister to the United States by invitation or by habit?
Kostadinov acknowledged that the suspension of Russian gas supplies to Bulgaria was not a friendly act, but explained that he understood what was happening, as Bulgaria was the first to start a war against Russia by imposing economic sanctions and expelling diplomats.
When Gazprom abruptly cut off supplies to Bulgaria in late April, the country relied on Russia for about 90 percent of the natural gas it consumed.
According to the Bulgarian prime minister, Russia has made a serious mistake: "If the most dependent country on Russia with the lowest GDP in the EU can afford to stand up to Putin, everyone should be able to do so," he said.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine