The two faces of the Bulgarian president

2022-05-16 19:13:05Pikëpamje SHKRUAR NGA CHRISTOPHER NEHRING
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev

Pro-Russian and yet also a loyal ally of the West? President Radev, once a former pilot in the Bulgarian army, is taking an extremely dangerous balancing course.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev pays a visit to Berlin. During the meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on May 16, 2022 they will talk about Russian aggression against Ukraine. Radev has sympathy for Russia, which is also related to his biography.

Before becoming president Rumen Radev had made a career in the army where he served as a pilot. He was a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party and proud of the 1,400 hours he flew with Soviet MiG-29 bombers until in 2014 he became Commander-in-Chief of the Bulgarian Military Aviation.

He only gave up his military career when he somewhat surprisingly won the November 2016 presidential election, with the support of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and with the help of Moscow.

Help from Moscow

BSP chairwoman Cornelia Ninova admitted after the election that she had discussed Radev's candidacy with Leonid Reshetnikov, a retired former Russian secret service general and director of the Moscow Institute for Strategic Research (RISS). Reshetnikov had previously conducted a poll in Bulgaria to determine the most promising profile of the candidate. For this he used the leader of the Russophile movement, Nikolai Malinow, who is meanwhile accused of being an "agent for Russian influence." Rumen Radev emerged from the poll as the most promising candidate, whom Reshetnikov hoped would redirect Bulgaria not from the West but to Russia.

Russian attack on Ukraine

Putin's Russia's attack on Ukraine has exposed Bulgarian President Rumen Radev's ties to Moscow. It is unclear whether his sympathies for Russia stem from a deep conviction or connection to Russophilia that is prevalent in Bulgaria. But since February 24, 2022 the Bulgarian President is following a very dangerous balancing course.

On the one hand, Radevi condemns the Russian attack and publicly declares Bulgaria's loyalty to NATO, of which the country has been a member since 2004. At the same time, as DW learned from NATO circles in Sofia, Radevi caused a great surprise when he spoke out against the provision of Bulgarian airspace by NATO forces, which aim to compensate for the miserable condition of the Bulgarian Air Force.

Radev refuses military aid to Ukraine because it "prolongs the war" and is a "dangerous step towards direct entry into the war." Warnings of "self-destruction of Europe" and calls for "neutrality" by Bulgaria have recently become part of its rhetorical repertoire.

Radev has also fueled conflicts with pro-Western Prime Minister Petkov in recent weeks, escalating tensions with northern Macedonia or attacking the Bulgarian government's crisis management after Russia cut off gas supplies.

President with two faces

Radev's pro-Russian, nationalist and anti-NATO rhetoric is reserved for Bulgarian domestic politics. When he appears on the international stage, he plays the role of a loyal and peaceful ally, who aims to balance things. So as during his visit to Prague on May 10, 2022, in Berlin he will condemn Russian aggression, defend good neighborly relations in the Balkans, and call for a diversification of European energy imports. In short, he will play the role of President Rumen Radev, whom he has prepared for occasions when he holds meetings in Western countries./DW