Another scandal erupted in Bulgaria over alleged Russian interference in the country’s domestic politics. Prime Minister Kirill Petkov, whom the parliament passed a vote of no confidence, attributed his defeat to the intrigues of the Russian ambassador, Eleonora Mitrofanova. The diplomat denied the accusations, she was supported on Smolenskaya Square. RTVI figured out what really happened in Bulgaria and how much Russia was involved in the resignation of the government.
On June 22, the parliament passed a vote of no confidence in the coalition government of Bulgaria, headed by Kirill Petkov. 123 deputies spoke out against the current composition of the Cabinet, while 121 legislators were enough to approve the initiative. 239 parliamentarians out of 240 took part in the voting.
Prior to the no-confidence vote, the ruling coalition led by Petkov’s “Continue Changes” party controlled 134 seats in parliament. Following the results of the elections in November 2021, populists from the association became her coalition partners “There is such a people”, the center-right “Democratic Bulgaria” and the Bulgarian Socialist Party. The opposition to the government is led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s conservative party Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB).
The Petkov government put an end to Borisov, who led the country from 2009 to 2021. The Let’s Change Party was founded by Petkov and his colleague Asen Vasiliev, both politicians are graduates of the MBA program at Harvard University. Petkov and Vasiliev are in favor of reforming the country and ridding it of corruption.
Why did the Petkov government fail?
Another June 9 ruling coalition left populists from “There is such a people.” One of the main reasons for the coalition to issue a vote of no confidence became the issue of lifting the veto on granting North Macedonia the status of a candidate member of the European Union due to historical differences and respect for the rights of ethnic Bulgarians in this country. Petkov’s intention to lift the veto has angered his populist coalition partners. Another reason for the vote of no confidence was the controversy over the country’s budget.
Petkov accused former coalition partners from the There Is Such a People party of trying to obtain budgetary funds in the interests of affiliated private companies. Commenting on the no-confidence vote, Petkov saidthat his defeat in parliament was facilitated by Russian influence, which was exerted through the ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanov. In addition to her, he complained about the former prime minister Borisov, the founder of the party “There is such a people” Slava Trifonov and media mogul Delyan Peevski.
Petkov also accused the opposition of not intending to fight corruption. “This vote is a tiny step on a very long road that we have to go through. I promise that we will continue the fight to regain our country, and one day we will have Bulgaria without puppeteers, without mafia – it will become a normal European country, – said he is in his farewell speech.
Petkov later clarified that the Russian ambassador to Bulgaria “could not believe that we had said ‘no’ to Russian Gazprom.” In March, the Bulgarian government decided not to renew the contract with Gazprom for the supply of gas. Instead, the country, which is almost entirely dependent on Russian fuel, plans to consider alternative supplies, and also looks forward to a future joint contract with the EU. Sofia’s current contract with the Russian company expires at the end of 2022. Deputy Prime Minister Asen Vasilev said he would not negotiate with Russia because of the “special operation” in Ukraine. The Bulgarian government noted that it has begun negotiations with Greece and Turkey to use the existing infrastructure for the supply of liquefied natural gas. Bulgaria can also increase supplies from Azerbaijan and explore the possibility of cooperation with Qatar and Algeria.
Previously, Petkov several times entered into polemics with the Russian embassy. In March Mitrofanova notedthat the people of Bulgaria do not support the confrontational actions of the government towards Russia, to which Petkov replied that foreign diplomats they don’t have the right to speak on behalf of other nations. Also in March Mitrofanova compared the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-78, whose outcome allowed Bulgaria to gain independence, with a “special operation” in Ukraine. Petkov asked Ambassador not to interfere in domestic politics.
Mitrofanova rejected Petkov’s new accusations against her. “This is probably such a convenient explanation for them, since now Russia is generally to blame for everything. But in fact, last year there was a huge governmental and parliamentary crisis, parliamentary elections were held three times, and finally it met. The parties in the parliament are very diverse, but, nevertheless, for the sake of Bulgaria, a coalition government was formed,” said Russian diplomat.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova explained Petkov’s accusations of “fatigue”. “On the list [виновников коллапса болгарского правительства] Missing Batman and Catwoman. I think the person is tired, started talking,” she commented on the situation.
What will happen next
Petkov still has a chance to regain power if he can negotiate with the parties and get a majority in a new vote. If this does not happen, then the right to form a majority will go to the conservative GERB party, although it faces accusations of corruption. Thus, there are high chances that new parliamentary elections will be held in Bulgaria soon – already the fourth for the country since April 2021.
For the European Union, the collapse of the Bulgarian government means that the issue of granting Albania and North Macedonia the status of candidate members of the association is once again being postponed. Bulgaria has not made a decision to lift the veto on the issue of North Macedonia, and the applications of Skopje and Tirana in the EU are being considered as a single package.
Another question is what course the future government will take towards Russia. For a moderate or friendly line towards Moscow, the socialists (now they have 26 seats), the Vozrozhdeniye party (13) and created in the spring the party “Get up, Bulgaria!”. Petkov spoke for active assistance to Ukraine in the conflict with Russia, including providing it with military support.