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Russian meddling anticipated in Bulgarian elections

Tzvetan Tzvetanov [Mediapool]

Tzvetan Tzvetanov, number 2 in Boyko Borissov’s GERB party, said on Sunday (10 February) he was “convinced” that Russia will meddle in this year’s elections in Bulgaria. In May Bulgarians will vote in European elections, and in October in local elections.

Tzvetanov was speaking on bTV television. He substantiated his claim by saying that other EU member countries had set up special units to deal with Russian propaganda. Bulgaria has no such special unit.

Actually, Russia doesn’t need to do much to spread its messages in Bulgaria. Several political forces, including the main opposition force BSP, are sympathetic to Russia. Ataka, a political force that could be described both as far left and far right, is openly pro-Kremlin. Strangely enough, Ataka is part of the “United Patriots”, the junior coalition partner of Boyko Borissov’s government.

Ataka owns a television (Alpha), and so does BSP (since recently). BSP also owns a newspaper (Duma), and other media outlets too spread messages sympathetic to Russia and its allies, including Venezuela’s Maduro.

Whether the Russian embassy or other entities pay money to these outlets is one question. Another question is: does Russia need to pay for pro-Russian propaganda, since it gets most of the time for free?

In GERB, Tzvetanov plays the anti-Russia camp, while Borissov tries to keep options open for big projects with Russian participation, such as the Belene nuclear power plant or the continuation of Turkish Stream gas pipeline via Bulgaria (under another name, possibly Balkan).

The GERB number 2 also commented on the hot topic of an alleged attempt to poison a Bulgarian businessmen, reminiscent of the Skripal case, and in which the same alleged GRU agents are involved.

On 30 April 2015 Bulgarian businessman Emilyan Gebrev, owner of the Dunarit weapons factory, was hospitalized after being poisoned. A month later he felt better and left hospital. Then he felt ill again, after being presumably poisoned for a second time, and was hospitalized again. The investigative group Bellingcat found that the GRU officer ‘Sergei Fedotov’, also involved in the Skripal case, was in Bulgaria twice, his visits coinciding with the poisonings.

Gebrev assumes that the attempts to kill him may be linked to the export of weapons of his factory to Ukraine, or to attempts of Russian entities to buy his business. Gebrev has ordered analysis about the substance that poisoned him abroad. Although inconclusive, the results don’t suggest Novichov was used.

Asked about the Gebrev poisoning case, Tzvetanov said that the Bulgarian parliament would meet with the country’s secret services on Thursday, to find out more and be capable to “avoid speculations”.

Asked if Bulgaria should expel Russian diplomats, as did a majority of EU countries in the Skripal case, Tzvetanov answered that he had a “personal position”, but will refrain from making it public.

Borissov surprised many last March by saying that he doubts the allegations regarding the Skripal case. Bulgaria hasn’t expelled Russian diplomats.

The US clearly prefer Tzetanov as interlocutor in Bulgaria. His popularity however in Bulgaria is low and his chance to replace Borissov as Prime Minister is remote.

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