Another Russian invasion of an Eastern European nation is brewing, and this time the consequences will be enormous.
Moscow has combined the threat of overwhelming military force with economic and internal political pressure to pull Bulgaria into its orbit. Russian reconnaissance and transport planes are frequently flying on Bulgaria’s eastern border, straining the nation’s antiquated air defense systems. Sources also indicate that Russia has also attempted to gain dominance in Bulgaria by buying influence in local media.
Bulgaria is a member both of NATO and the European Union. By treaty, aggressive acts on one NATO member must be treated as an attack on all, including the United States.
Last fall, According to reports in the U.K.’s Independent, Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev warned that after its invasion of the Ukraine, Russia was targeting Bulgaria. “Russia has trained its sights on the Balkans to wage a ‘hybrid warfare’ campaign aimed at destabilising the whole of Europe.” Plevneliev accused the Kremlin of launching “massive cyber attacks on Bulgaria’s government institutions and increasingly testing Bulgaria’s airspace…The very efficient and secure way for Russia to destabilise Europe is through the Balkans, so that is what Mr. Putin is focusing on,”
A Bulgarian defense document describes the nation’s security concerns about Russia: “Hard to predict challenges, risks and threats to the national and global security are generated by the crisis in Ukraine and the development of the ‘hybrid war’; … the unsolved security problems in the Western Balkans; the frozen conflicts in the Black Sea region… In response to the deteriorating security environment NATO is increasing its Rapid Reaction Force to 40,000 troops. A brigade-strength very High Readiness Joint Task Force and enhancement of the Command and Control system with new elements is under way. Their reaction time is substantially reduced. New adequate measures will be taken in case of continued trends towards the increase in threats of asymmetric and hybrid activities adjacent to or on Allied territory. In this regard the Republic of Bulgaria is ready to contribute to the NATO Interim Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) Capability/Solution…the conclusion is that there is a durable and long-term deterioration of the security environment in the immediate vicinity of the Eastern and the South-Eastern NATO flanks. The international order in Europe and the international relations principles of the inviolability of the legitimate international borders, the non-interference in internal affairs of other countries and the respect for the right of self-determination of the nations are now considerably undermined.”
Observers believe that this isn’t just an attack on one nation, but on the whole of Europe. TheEuropean Reform organization stressed: “It is time that we properly understand Russian activities in Bulgaria, especially in light of recent developments taking place in Ukraine, Syria, and a number of Eastern European countries. Using its old divide et impera tactics, Russia is challenging the unity among EU Member States by taking advantage of a number of different factors including economic links or support for political parties which have especially strong ties with Moscow (like Ataka in Bulgaria). It is time we look closer at Putin’s game, a big part of which is a conflict in the East of Ukraine, and react before it is too late.”
“If the Ukrainian conflict has taught us anything, it is that Russia has recently diverted much of its resources and focus from mobilising hard power in protecting its interests to soft power, including funding media outlets and political parties. This shift can be seen very clearly in Bulgaria which is suffering from Moscow’s harmful interferences. In November 2006, Vladimir Chizhov, Moscow’s Ambassador to the EU, famously called Bulgaria ‘Russia’s would-be Trojan horse in the EU’. Although Bulgaria has long been regarded as the European country most vulnerable to Russian influence, there is no place for a passive reaction from the European side.”
Defense News reports that in response to the Russian threat, “The governments of Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria are discussing plans to set up a joint military brigade, according to an announcement by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko following a meeting with his Romanian counterpart, Klaus Iohannis, in Bucharest…The latest move by the three countries follows an earlier initiative by Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania to set up a joint military brigade, dubbed the Litpolukrbrig. The brigade will comprise about 4,000 troops, and it is expected to reach full combat readiness in 2017.”
Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government