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Bulgarian-Russian Diplomatic Relations – Politics And Diplomacy

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The recovery of the Bulgarian state system in the XIX century is the culmination in the restructuring of the Balkan’s geopolitical map. It was due to the sacrifice of the Bulgarian rebels in 1876 and bloodshed and heroism of the Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Romanian and Finnish soldiers in 1877-1878.

Despite the unjust decisions in Berlin 1878, in the next decades, the activity of Bulgaria turns it into one of the main factors of the complex and dynamically changing configuration in the European South-East. World cataclysms in XX century, as well as the cardinal changes in the beginning of XXI century reflect on the Bulgarian state. Russia takes up a significant part in the Bulgarian history, politics and diplomacy. Its role in the Balkan, respectively Bulgarian processes are often disputed, politicized and often denied.
The evaluation parameter of the bilateral relations cannot be taken out of the framework of the historically-philosophical reflection of the past, which predetermines the results of almost every analysis if the last decade of XX century. The absence of a political censorship, as well as the emotional bias of a large number of authors, outline the subjective parameters of the researches.
This anniversary of the establishment of the Bulgarian-Russian diplomatic relations is a good occasion to actualize issues from the past and to outline the perspectives before two of the most active participants in the regional and global events, which have common past, but are still in the process of forming their future.
During the last decade discussions about Bulgarian-Russian relations in the context of world processes are most often concentrated in two questions, which are part of the political-diplomatic problems. The first one is related to the term “occupation”, used to describe different periods of the Bulgarian-Russian history. The second one, considerably more important and comprehensive is oriented towards relations of the type – small country – big country. The study of these two problems through the prism of the bilateral contacts and their results determines their specifics and increases the objectivity of the analysis.
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The term “occupation” is a significant part of the characterization of the Temporary Russian rule in 1878-1879 in Principality Bulgaria, as well as of the period October 1944 – February 1947. And the problem is not in the term, it is in its meaning. This word is charged quite negatively, which affects the estimation of the processes studied. The occupation period is inseparable part of the after-war regulation of the international relations in the respective region. The meaning of the term “occupation” is universal and unchanging – “holding a territory and controlling it”. But do we have to use it synonymously as a definition for the last quarter of XIX century, or the middle of the XX century? Aren’t there any components, which can differentiate the processes and in the same time reveal the difference in meaning, oriented not towards changing the term, but towards its adequate use?
What is common for the two periods is the fact that each one of the occupations is arranged beforehand with the rest of the Great Powers after successful for the Russian state war actions. The Temporary Russian Rule is part of the preliminary contract from San Stefano in 1878, which with a change in the time (from two years it is changed to nine months) is confirmed by the European “concert” states in June same year in Berlin, The Soviet occupation is a result of the arrangement between the three big countries (USSR, The United Kingdom, The USA) in the period of the Second World War, whose concrete expression is the Peace Agreement with Bulgaria, signed on October, 28 1944. The control over the processes in the Bulgarian state is exercised by the Union control Committee, which has representatives of London and Washington. And if the occupation framework of the Bulgarian territories matches the juridical criteria of the international public law, the differences in the historical periods mentioned are bound by the specifics of the era and the participants. The results of the Russian and Soviet occupation are significant for Bulgaria, and this determines the place of the state in the European South-East in XIX and XX centuries.
For Bulgaria the period of Temporary Russian Rule sets the foundations of the Bulgarian state system. The establishment of the local and central authority institutions, as well as the passing of the Turnovska constitution, outline the state-law parameters of the de jure tributary, but de facto souvereign Bulgarian Principality. This process of evolution starts from the Russian occupation period, in which the restrictive clauses of the Berlin’s decisions are gradually violated. A proof for this is the progressive for its time Bulgarian constitution, in which one can clearly see the striving for independence from the suzerain – the Ottoman Empire. This document, as well as the number of self-dependent actions of the prince and the Bulgarian governments in the next decades in economic, political and military aspect, underlines the formal character of the dependence on the ottoman sultan. The establishment of diplomatic relations with the Great Powers and neighboring countries begins on July 7 1879 when the Russian Diplomacy Agent A.P.Davidov gave the letters credential to the Bulgarian prince Alexander Batenberg. This is the beginning of the active participation of Bulgarian politicians and diplomats in the multi-layer relations in the European South-East, which develop in the context of the established in Berlin Balkan status quo. The sequence of political actions, diplomatic steps and military operations in the last quarter of XIX – beginning of XX century form the Principality as one of the main factors in the Eastern problem. In the period until the Balkan wars 1912-1913 Bulgaria turns into a modern and prospering state with a big territory (After the Union of East Rumelia with Bulgarian Principality), with a rapidly developing infrastructure, with a big and well-trained and well-armed army.
Naturally, the negatives of the Russian imperial self-confidence and the disregarding of the Bulgarian striving towards self-confirmation as a self-dependent political entity inevitably accompany the constructive process in the Principality. Namely during the decade after the Liberation of Bulgaria this emotional reflection of the Russian anticipation for endless gratitude and voluntary humble dependence and the Bulgarian inertia for unselfish help in the bilateral relations have been built.
Unlike the positive for Bulgaria results of the Temporary Russian Rule, the Soviet occupation from the middle of XX century is part of another tactical and strategic plan. The Second World War goes under the flag of world fight with Hitler-fascism, but also determines the main powers and landmarks in the post-war opposition. In the relations between the three Big (The USSR, The United Kingdom, The USA), the suggested variants, differences in the discussions, as well as decisions taken are predominantly in accordance with the military-strategic plans, which aim at the Third Reich. The victorious movement of the Soviet army to the West predetermined the geopolitical restructuring of the European map. After the crash of the fascist Germany, the conference in Potsdam in the summer of 1945 turns out to be the logical peak of Moscow’s efforts. Its concrete expression is that Central and South-East Europe are under Soviet military-political and ideological control.
Part of the eastern block is Bulgaria, where until the signing of the Paris contracts from February 1947, a dramatic change of the system is being set up. For nearly two and a half years there is a radical transformation of the society, in which the destructive component prevails.The physical liquidation of people from the political and financial elite of czar’s Bulgaria an of the opposition, the gradual elimination of the professionals in all fields, as well as the imposing of the Soviet politically-economic and ideological model, turn Bulgaria into one of the devoted satellites of the Soviet Union. The period after October 1944 imposes the force method of convincing and confirming the Soviet paradigm, which becomes one of the two sides of the bipolar model of the Cold War. As in Bulgaria, in the rest of the countries of the socialist block, Moscow imposes state-party principle of the unification and obedience.
The Soviet occupation sends Bulgarian society a few decades back. The difference with the Russian occupation after June 1878 is huge. The last quarter of XIX century regardless of the undisputed role of Russia in the military crashing of the Ottoman Empire, its place and role in the Balkan processes, respectively Bulgarian processes, is constantly being restricted and disputed. The reason is the big number of political players in the Eastern problem and their opposed interests and different influence abilities. This allows the Bulgarian society to develop and modernize in a competitive atmosphere. However, after the Second World War, all comes down to closing the system, which limits the possibilities and minimizes the variants for development and prosperity.
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During the 125-years-old existence of the contemporary Bulgarian state, relations with Russia cannot be put into the framework of the traditionally oriented towards unilateral dependence relations of the type “small state – big state”. In the context of the politically diplomatic practice of the bilateral contacts there are numerous proofs for breaking the imposed stereotypes.
An evidence for such an approach is the Union of East Rumelia with Bulgarian Principality in 1885, which is a self-dependent action of the Bulgarian society. Heroically defended in the Serbian-Bulgarian war in November the same year, this event turns into a triumph not only for the Bulgarian army, but also for the Bulgarian prince Alexander Batenberg. The hostility of the Russian Emperor Alexander III towards him, inspired by the Russian diplomats in the Principality, lead to crucial decisions, which radically change the situation in Bulgaria and on the Balkans for decades to come. The refusal of the Russian Emperor to confirm the restitution of the prince on the Bulgarian throne after an unsuccessful coup in the Principality leads to his abdication and to the beginning of yet another eastern crisis, known as “The Bulgarian” crisis. Its results are not only the election of prince Ferdinand Coburg Gota as the prince of Bulgaria, but also a ten-year long termination of the Bulgarian-Russian diplomatic relations.
The rule of St. Stambolov and K. Stoilov in the end of XIX century are the most successful for the economic prosperity and foreign policy actions of the Bulgarian Principality. During this period not only the Bulgarian economy is modernized, but with a successful maneuvering between the great powers and the Balkan neighbors, significant successes are achieved in defense of the national Bulgarian interests in the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman empire. In addition other processes, which reveal specific moments in the Russian-Bulgarian relations, are observed.
A well-known fact is that the Russian Empire in the end of XIX and beginning of XX century does not have stable economic positions and interests in the European South-East, respectively in Bulgaria. It is not competitive with the West European states, amongst which Germany and Austro-Hungary stand out in terms of pace of development and activity. The increasing financial dependence on Berlin and Vienna however, does not predetermine the political obedience and consideration of Sofia with their preferences in internal political aspects. Examples for violation of the universal principle, that economy predetermines politics, are the events, related to the resignation of the government of K. Stoilov (January 1899). The election of the D Grekov cabinet, as well as those of the following cabinets of T. Ivanchov are accompanied by active consultations for political castling and party variants. They, however, are not done with the diplomatic representatives of Germany and Austro-Hungary, but are very actively carried out with the Russian diplomatic agent Gr. Bahmetiev.
This surprising and out of the diplomatic standards fact cannot be explained with the personality of the Russian imperial representative. On the contrary, Bahmetiev as an easily swayed and manipulated figure is a convenient for the Bulgarian politicians mediator for implementing in Peterburg beneficial to the Principality information and opinions. However, it is more probable that the quicken interest of Sofia in the Russian opinion is related to an important for the Bulgarian foreign policy plans fact. The organized by the initiative of the Russian international peace conference (18 May – 29 June) is a good opportunity for the establishment of Bulgaria as a full-right member of the European community. Regardless of the strict and limiting instructions of the Russian foreign minister M.N.Muraviov, thanks to the consistent efforts of the Bulgarian premier D. Grekov before Muraviov and of the ambassador in Tsarigrad Iv. Zinoviev before the Turkish sultan, the Bulgarian delegation takes part in the Hague conference. Moreover, it signs the documents passed at the international forum together with the independent states. This inconsistency of the Russian position towards Bulgaria, which is a complex combination of defense, but also of distancing, sometimes even a refusal of Sofia and preferences most often to Beograd, is in a direct connection with the ad hoc, but mostly the strategic interests of the Russian Empire, and later, of the Soviet Union.
The fight between Bulgarians and Serbs for the sultan’s document (berat) for the Scopie eparchy, which lasts five years (1897 – 1902) ends with the election of metropolitan Firmilian, which is a success for Beograd. The strong and unambiguous support, which the Russian ambassador in Tzarigrad Iv. Zinoviev gives, sets the beginning of the Serbian church, followed by the political-military, offensive of Serbia, which creates favorable conditions for the future restructuring of the Balkan borders.
Russian playing the Serbian card in the race for influence in the European South-East does not stop Peterburg several years later to participate actively in another configuration, in which the stake is the Bulgarian sovereignty. The crisis in Bosna in 1908 is the last eastern crisis before the Balkan wars 1912-1913, which for yet another time changes the imposed in Berlin in 1878 Balkan status quo. The announcement of the Bulgarian independence, followed by the annexation of Bosna and Hertzegovina by Austro-Hungary in September 1908 causes numerous diplomatic shuttles and political deals. There is a danger of a Bulgarian-Turkish conflict, which is prevented by Petersburg. The Russian suggestion for regulation of the problem through financial castling with the Turkish debt to Petersburg decides in favor of the Bulgarian sovereignty.
In each of the instances given the unusual or positive reactions or decisions are within the framework of an ad hoc interest or traditional politics. Important also is the fact that during the period between the Russian-Turkish war 1877-1878 and the First World War, the processes in the European South-East accelerate, and the participation of the Balkan states in them is very active and unpredictable as a whole. This forms an unusual situation, in which the great powers in most cases follow the events, instead of forming and controlling their development.
This does not change the main imperative in the Bulgarian-Russian relations, which outlines their political-diplomatic parameters through the next decades. The common Slavic “paradigms” – language, religion, spirituality, are a significant part of the political plans, actions and decisions. Permanently used by the political elite of both countries idea for belonging to the Slavic world, as well as the periodically actualized topic of the orthodox community, create favorable conditions for expanding and deepening the Bulgarian-Russian relations, but also going out of the framework of the standard decisions. A typical example is the fact that in both World wars Bulgaria is ana enemy of Russia, but no one soldier fights at the East front. A lot is written on this issue, but an adequate answer to this phenomenon is hard to find. Shall we seek the reasons in the Slavic spirituality, Bulgarian appreciation, political sense?
Until the 90s of XX century, regardless of the social-political cataclysms and transformations in the Bulgarian and Russian societies during the whole century, the inertia of the imperial behavior, in which Bulgaria is stably an obedient and helpful player in South-East Europe, as well as this of Bulgarian politicians, seeking interest, protection and support in the superpower, is traditional and consistent. The end of the Cold war tests the methods and means used more than principles of political behavior. In the last decade of XX the model “big brother and younger brother” and “brothers Slavs”, on which the Russian-Bulgarian relations had been built, crashes. This period is marked with active nihilism in Bulgaria and unpleasant surprise and disappointment in the Russian Federation. The mutual refusal for more active political contacts and concrete economic agreements (apart from the bilateral contract signed in 1992) leads to very bad results for the Bulgarian economy. Gradually relations Sofia-Moscow are like in the remote time in the end of XIX when the economic disinterest of Russia puts it at the end of Bulgarian’s list of economic partners. The difference, however, is in the fact that in the last near half of a century, the Bulgarian economy has been modeled by the Russian economy, which has made it dependent on the Federation for materials and spare parts. We should also consider the fact that the economic vacuum in Russia and post-soviet space is rapidly filled by transnational companies and firms from all over the world.
After going through the catharsis of the broken illusions and harsh realities in the beginning of XXI Russian-Bulgarian relations have the opportunity to develop on a new basis. September 11 2001 created the new vision for the world, set new tasks and restructured the global space according to the new enemy of humankind – terrorism. The common enemy unites, but also creates an opportunity to outline new alternatives in bilateral aspect. Real conditions for breaking the dichotomous dependence “small country-big country” are being created. The new-old players in international relations (The European Union and NATO) outline the new accents in the global space and respectively the new foreign policy priorities of Bulgaria and of the Russian Federation.
Pre-union obstacles, which Sofia consistently overcomes in the last years, establish it as a devoted ally to NATO and the USA in peace missions in different places of the world. The recognition of Bulgaria as a full-right member of the North-Atlantic pact on 2 April 2004, as well as the last stage before its membership in the European Union, turns Bulgaria into an active component of the world’s changes. Besides, the new positions of Sofia enable it to develop its relations with Moscow on a fundamentally different basis. Optimism in this direction can be looked for in the change of the foreign policy priorities of the Federation. After Vladimir Putin came into power, Moscow has changed its vision and accents as a whole. Russia has started an active cooperation with the European Union and NATO. Moreover, it has turned into their strategic partner, which makes possible to look for common interests with Bulgaria.
The Euro-Atlantic priorities of Sofia and the bound for Euro-Atlantic cooperation Moscow are the foundation, on which their future relation can be based. Evidences for the mutual quicken interest in the last years are the numerous delegations of various rank and character, which discuss and sign documents of mutual interest. During this period is noticed the component, which is non-existent in Bulgarian-Russian relations in the past – striving for equal in rights dialogue, in which prevails the pragmatic interest, rather than the historical-emotional reflection. The variant of a bilateral, oriented towards mutual interest cooperation has no alternative. This is the only way not only to prove the necessity, but to create conditions for adequate decisions in the globalizing world, in which each country of the post-soviet system has to find its worthy place.

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For 125 years diplomatic relations Bulgaria and Russia go through the complex cataclysms of the political and military opposition, through imposed ideological unity and the community of the Slavic “paradigms”. Political models and diplomatic actions outline the multi-layered, full more with surprises rather than predictability relations between the two countries. Geographical parameters has predetermined the common past, which with the distance of time shapes into a well-closed cupboard, from which only from time to time certain fact or phenomenon is taken out just to prove or deny given political thesis. The unstable present needs no past problems, but adequate decisions for forming future cataclysms. In an era when the national problems are narrowly interweaved with the global processes, the alternative before the political elite of Bulgaria and Russia is just one – pragmatism in the regional parameters of the global problems.

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