Russian Prime Minister Medvedev traveled to Bulgaria last week.
The Russian premier’s visit was intended to explore the possibility of extending the TurkStream gas pipeline to the Balkan country and then onwards to Serbia and Central Europe, which is dependent on Sofia securing firm legal guarantees from Brussels in order to avoid a repeat of the South Stream fiasco that gave rise to the current project in the first place.
The timing of his trip also coincided with his host’s Liberation Day celebrations when Bulgaria remembers how it fought for freedom against the Ottoman Empire with Russian assistance, making this a very somber occasion and the perfect moment for any Russian leader to visit. Ties between the two Slavic countries have traditionally been close, though they’ve nevertheless had their fair share of problems as well, most notably during the two World Wars when they found themselves on opposite sides.
The complexity of Russian-Bulgarian relations explains why it’s a lot easier said than done to propose TurkStream’s extension to Bulgaria, especially given the recent context of the Balkan state becoming a joint US and EU protectorate and all but functioning as one of their vassals. That said, it speaks to the sincere desire of the Bulgarian authorities to advance their nation’s interests that they’re even trying to go forward with this possibility anyhow. The EU obviously needs the energy, and while they’d prefer to diversify more fully from their Russian supplier for political reasons or at the very least retain pipeline transit through Ukraine, they might be willing to accept TurkStream since they don’t have any other realistic options available to them under the circumstances. Bulgaria’s American ally, however, is clearly against this since it intends to sell more costly LNG to the continent instead.
It can therefore be said that a struggle for influence is taking place in Bulgaria nowadays.
The EU could leverage its economic and institutional weight in the country to promote TurkStream’s extension to “mainland Europe” from Turkey while the US could lean on its military influence through NATO and the national authorities under its sway to try to stop this from happening. Amidst all of this, there are evidently some Bulgarian decision makers who – despite their political faults and loyalty to one or another patron – nevertheless still care about their national interests and understand how important it is for their country that this Russian initiative succeeds, hence why some headway has already been made in that direction thus far. It’ll remain to be seen who comes out on top in this struggle for influence, but Bulgaria just became an important New Cold War battleground.