Ukraine’s most protracted and fatal crisis since its post-Soviet independence initiated in the form of a protest against the government releasing plans to establish closer trade ties with the European Union and has since churned a global impasse between Russian and Western powers. The crisis emerges from more than twenty years of flaccid governance, a lopsided economy subjugated by oligarchs, hefty reliance on Russia, and severe differences between Ukraine’s linguistically, religiously, and ethnically distinct eastern and western halves. After the exit of President Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014, Russian moves to take authority of the Crimean Peninsula signaled Moscow’s objective to preserve its sphere of influence and raised serious questions about the potential of the state’s new leaders to bestow stability and a path to meaningful ameliorations.
Russia has significant fraternal ties with Ukraine existing since the nineteenth century. Ukraine was a constituent of Russia for centuries and both maintained close orientation throughout the Soviet period, when Ukraine and Russia were independent republics. Ukraine is also an important economic associate that Russia would like to incorporate into its Eurasian Union.
Bulgaria has actively been in the midst of the Ukrainian conflict, having vital interests at stake. Both its EU membership and its close historic tie with Russia institute the country’s official position with regards to the Ukrainian crisis. Henceforth, it is necessary to mention the Bulgarian relations with Russia and the EU in order to fully understand Bulgaria’s position in regard to the Ukrainian Crisis.
Bulgarians hold Russians in great affinity for the fact that in 1878 Russian troops offered assistance in the emancipation of the country from the Ottoman hegemony that lasted for five centuries. It is not purely cultural and ancient historic ties that keep Russia and Bulgaria close. Bulgaria has a devoted economic interest in having friendly relations with Moscow since the country is majorly dependent on oil and gas coming from the Russian Federation. Thus, Bulgaria remains particularly vulnerable to energy shocks and its energy security could be widely threatened by unfavorable developments with regards to the Ukrainian crisis.
In relation to the EU sanctions against Russia, Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Daniel Mitov admitted: “We enforce them not because we want to, but because we have to”. This statement, therefore, is aligned with the showcased attitudes discussed above, regarding Bulgarian relations with the EU and the Russian Federation in the context of the Ukrainian crisis.
The political and economic reality in Bulgaria is such that the country is omni-balancing – maneuvering to satisfy external actors, but simultaneously to accommodate the political and economic actuality in the country. It is clear that a disintegration of the relations between Moscow and Sofia would be economically catastrophic for the small EU member state, but it is also factual that non-compliance with the overshadowing decisions coming from Brussels would translate into a freeze of relations with the EU bloc.
Despite these pre-occupancies Bulgarian policy-makers do not leave any room for shortcomings in trying to consolidate relations in the context of the Ukrainian crisis. Bulgaria is unceasingly working to improve it’s position in relation to the Ukrainian conflict by supporting the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine and providing assistance in the defense reform, public diplomacy, etc.
These efforts include the initiation of the Medical Rehabilitation Trust Fund in Ukraine (2014-2016) by NATO, for which Bulgaria was the leading nation, assisted by major contributors like USA, Turkey, Japan and Netherlands. This Bulgarian-lead NATO project was aimed to boost the standards and long-term sustainability of Ukraine’s medical services to accompany treatment and rehabilitation of injured Ukrainian servicemen and women, as well as civilian personnel from the defense and security sector, to provide access for patients to medical and psychological rehabilitation services and assistive equipment, professional rehabilitation services and sport rehabilitation.
And lastly, the Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev was awarded as the “Person of the Year” in 2015 by the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma for their immense support and cooperation in helping Ukraine maintain it’s sovereignty and sustain it’s international ties. Plevneliev has been bravely unprejudiced and outspoken on the Ukraine crisis, condemning the incorporation of Crimea into Russia in March 2014 and criticizing Moscow's actions in Eastern Ukraine, proving it’s sheer devotion to the peace and stability in Ukraine.