By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
The Bulgarian government said on March 4 that it was setting up a national staff to monitor the situation in Ukraine and take steps to minimise risks to national security, which it sees as including risks to energy supplies and possible increased migration pressure.
The government said this after a specially-convened meeting of the cabinet’s national security council.
The same day, the office of President Rossen Plevneliev said that a crisis staff had been set up three days earlier at the head of state’s office to monitor the situation in Ukraine and the region, and Plevneliev had held a meeting on March 4 with defence minister Angel Naidenov. This meeting was part of efforts by Plevneliev to co-ordinate Bulgaria’s position at state level on Ukraine given the NATO council in Brussels and the special European Council meeting set for March 6.
In spite of tensions between the Bulgarian Socialist Party government and Plevneliev, the President has been active in keeping his office in the loop on Ukraine, having on March 2 called in the foreign minister and intelligence chiefs for talks in the light of the Crimea crisis.
After the cabinet national security council meeting, interior minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said that discussions had dwelt on “all aspects” of the crisis in Ukraine and scenarios for minimising risks to national security.
He said that the national staff to be set up would probably start work on March 5.
Yovchev said that the risks to national security could be divided into economic threats related to possible disruptions to normal gas supplies to Bulgaria, possible risks regarding the transportation of nuclear fuel and a risk of enhanced migratory pressure towards Bulgaria in case of a military conflict in Ukraine.
Yovchev said that close to 250 000 to 300 000 people of Bulgarian origin could head to Bulgaria in the event of a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
He said that relations between Russia and the EU could deteriorate, which could have a negative effect on the fulfillment of some major infrastructure projects such as the South Stream gas pipeline.
The cabinet press office said that a package of seven measures had been adopted at the security council meeting.
These were the establishment of the national staff, assessment of the state of reserves of gas and petroleum products, a national plan to deal with refugee flow from Ukraine, a review and update of plans to response to any accident or radiological contamination in Ukraine that could affect Bulgaria, strengthening border and customs control of goods or people or cargo to Ukraine against weapons trafficking, “conducting a balanced foreign policy in relation to the conflict in Ukraine” and reviewing plans for transporting new and used nuclear fuel from Bulgaria’s Kozloduy nuclear power station.
The statement by the President’s office after his meeting with the defence minister said that Plevneliev and Naidenov had noted the critical importance of the issue of the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The two agreed that safeguards were needed to protect the rights of the Bulgarian community and other minorities in Ukraine, the statement said.
In Kyiv on March 4, Bulgarian foreign minister Kristian Vigenin met Ukraine interim president Alexander Turchynov, underlining Sofia’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, a foreign ministry statement said.
Vigenin, who also met other government officials and political leaders, was quoted in the statement as saying that in the 21st century, “problems cannot be resolved through military action”.