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BULGARIA


  
  

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 19,859 15,608 13,600 69
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,130 1,790 1,650 106
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 128 - (28/01/08)

East or West?
There is a conundrum for and about the Bulgarians. Are they Western or are they Eastern?

They were whisked into NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2006, on the coat-tails of the Romanians, who have no doubts at all of their Western credentials, with a name, a language and a religion and culture owing everything to the legacy of Rome. Who better in Central Europe to be a signatory of the Treaty of Rome? 

But the Bulgars are rather more legatees of Byzantium – the eastern Roman empire. They are of all the Central European peoples the closest to the Russians, who inherited Byzantine traditions, and Orthodox faith, becoming the Third Rome. Bulgarian is closer to Russian by far of the Slav tongues of Central Europe. Tsarist Russia was a vital ally in securing Bulgarian independence in 1878, recognised by the Treaty of Berlin of that year, the highest achievement of statecraft of Tsar Alexander II, Prince Otto von Bismarck and UK Premier Benjamin Disraeli.

The Bulgarians cleaved to communism more assiduously than say the Hungarians or Czechs, let alone the Poles. There was never a Bulgarian revolt against the system, as in 1956 or 1968 or 1981, subdued by repression. It was only in the wake of events to the north in Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia that its communist regime expired in 1989.

Putin comes to town
On January 17 Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Sofia. He is no Westerner for sure. He is doing everything to return Russia back to its origins, although he would certainly not confuse that with Asian. He would wish the same for Bulgaria.

Putin seeks closer energy ties with Bulgaria, but faced protests over the former Soviet satellite state's growing economic contacts with Moscow, which shows that not everybody in Bulgaria is as pro-Russian as all that. 

Putin clinched a key pipeline deal with Bulgaria on January 18 that strengthens Moscow's grip on European gas markets before issuing a stern warning about the future status of Kosovo. Bulgaria and Russia agreed to build the so-called South Stream pipeline project, which will cross the Black Sea into Bulgaria and then split in two arms, one going northwest to Austria and the other south to Greece and then west to southern Italy.

It will strengthen Moscow's grip as the leading supplier of gas to Europe and will rival EU plans for its own pipeline project, Nabucco, aimed at reducing the bloc's dependence on Russian gas. "The negotiations ended successfully for both parties. Bulgaria's interests have been protected," Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev said.

The deal on the South Stream pipeline had not been expected due to an ownership dispute, but both sides agreed to take a 50-percent stake in the Bulgarian stretch.The deal only came about "thanks to the personal intervention of President Putin," Stanishev said. 

Turning to Kosovo
After sealing the agreement, Putin turned to the contentious issue of Kosovo's independence during a joint press conference with Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov.

"A unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo and its eventual support from the international community would be illegal and immoral and Russia cannot support such a solution to the problem," Putin said on the final day of the visit to Bulgaria.

Kosovo, supported by the United States and some EU countries, has threatened to declare independence in the coming months, which both Moscow and Belgrade oppose.

Serbia, a traditional ally of Moscow, opposes anything greater than more autonomy for the majority ethnic Albanian province. The province has been administered by the United Nations since a NATO air war in 1999 ended a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanians, including separatist rebels.

Other energy matters
In possibly his last major push for Russia's energy interests abroad before he steps down, Putin also oversaw the signing of other long-delayed agreements.

Russia won a contract to build a four-billion-euro new 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant in the town of Belene on the Danube. Russian nuclear technology company Atomstroiexport saw the deal as "an important victory ... that opens the way to Russian nuclear technology in Europe." Construction work on the first of the plant's two 1,000-megawatt pressurized-water reactors would begin in 2008, with the first reactor expected to be operational by January 2014 and the second a year later.

The third major coup for Putin on his trip to Sofia was the signing of a contract to set up a joint company for building the Burgas-Alexandrupolis pipeline to channel Russian oil from the Black Sea to the Aegean. The project, which has been talked about for 14 years, is seen as an alternative to the tanker-congested Bosphorus Straits.

Putin' s visit to Sofia, the second one during his term as president, was officially to mark the 130th anniversary of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, in which Russia freed Bulgaria from five centuries of Ottoman domination. 

Ties between the former Cold War allies have suffered a setback following the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, with Bulgaria joining both the EU and NATO.

Five smaller contracts were also signed during Putin's visit, including one to build a train ferry system linking Russia's Kavkaz port in the Kerch Strait with the Bulgarian port of Varna on the Black Sea.

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