With just over a quarter of the population estimated to live below the poverty line, Bulgaria is reckoned to be The EU’s poorest member state.
The country has historically also had a close connection to Russia – both politically and economically.
When Vladimir Putin went to war against Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Bulgaria was, among other things, the EU country that was most dependent on Russian gas, and the clear support from Bulgaria to Ukraine was largely absent.
– The NATO country Bulgaria has so far held back on the official supply of weapons to Ukraine, wrote for example Dagbladet on 27 April last year.
– The Bulgarian proposal
Most, including Russia’s own soldierswas caught by surprise when Russian forces invaded Ukraine in early 2022.
Even within the ranks of the EU Parliament, there must have been confusion and uncertainty about how to deal with the situation.
At an informal meeting among members of the European Council on 25 February, the day after the war broke out, the then Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Kiril Petkov, is said to have been central.
Petkov is said to have pointed out that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj was there They died in Moscow and could have less than 48 hours to live.
This apparently to demonstrate that the EU countries had limited time to act, and to motivate the member states to make hard decisions quickly.
This must have been part of the motivation behind the massive sanctions package the EU countries launched against Russia shortly after.
Around the same time, Finance Minister and Petkov’s co-founder of the party “We continue the change”, Asen Vasilev, is said to have given a speech at a finance minister’s meeting, which is said to have turned the mood from uncertain to purposeful.
Despite the apparently very central role of the Bulgarian ministers in the sanctions against Russia, it was not the country’s only contribution to Ukraine in the early phase of the war.
Bulgaria contributed to Ukraine’s defense capability in ways that may appear to have been at least as important, and also far more challenging and risky for those involved within Bulgaria’s government.
Already on 28 February, the then Prime Minister Petkov fired his own Minister of Defence, Stefan Yanev, after the latter took a clear rhetorical stand for the Russian occupying powers in the war, according to, among other things Reuters.
In order to assist Ukraine, Petkov and his allies not only had to risk economic reprisals from Russia, but also fierce opposition from their own government members.
Diesel and ammunition
Early in the war, a conversation is said to have taken place between Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, and the Bulgarian prime minister.
Kuleba is said to have made the country’s need for fuel and ammunition clear to Petkov. To this, the prime minister is said to have replied that “it will not be easy”, but also that he should do “everything in his power” to meet Ukraine’s needs.
Living up to this became a campaign in the shadows for the Bulgarian president and his allies.
Through intermediaries, during the spring of 2022, Bulgaria managed to become one of Ukraine’s largest suppliers of diesel, and the way this took place can in itself be seen as a jab at Putin.
In Bulgaria, the Russian company Lukoil had a refinery which, among other things, converted Russian crude oil into diesel. According to Die Welt, Finance Minister Vasilev has persuaded this refinery to sell its excess diesel to Ukraine.
In this way, Ukraine ended up getting 40 percent of its diesel supplied from the country that sought to force it to its knees.
The government also authorized the sale of ammunition, not directly to Ukraine, but to intermediaries who then brought it to Ukrainian forces.
– We estimate that about a third of the ammunition Ukraine needed in the early phase of the war came from Bulgaria, Petkov tells Welt.
When Russia found out about Bulgaria’s extensive support for Ukraine, it quickly had consequences.
On 27 April, Russia cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. The reason was allegedly because the two countries did not want to pay for the supply in Russian currency, but was often regarded as a partially disguised attempt at blackmail.
Bulgaria apparently did not allow itself to be blackmailed, but instead chose to turn to the United States to have its gas needs covered, and had two tankers with liquid gas transported to the country.
– I made it clear in the talks with the US that these tankers are a political signal to the whole of Europe that there are always ways out of Russian dependence, Petkov stated about how he got the US to agree to sell the gas at the same price as Bulgaria otherwise would pay to Russia.
During the summer, however, Petkov’s government was ousted following a motion of no confidence. An incident pro-Russian forces must have been part of, writes Politico.
In Ukraine, however, the gratitude of Petkov and his allies is still present.
– Kiril Petkov has shown integrity, and I will always be grateful, said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba about Petkov’s efforts to Die Welt.