Interview by President Rumen Radev for the Information Agency of Russia TASS
Question: Mr. President, you will take part in the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum for the first time. What did it attract you with, and what are the goals of your visit that you have set?
Rumen Radev: The economic forum in Saint Petersburg has established itself as one of the leading platforms for exchange of ideas in the sphere of economy and politics in the world. Therefore I highly appreciate the invitation to participate in this event.
I think that Bulgaria’s unique geographic and cultural position at the border between different cultures make the country an interesting partner. I believe that a growing number of politicians and entrepreneurs will become aware of this fact. The most active ones are already in Bulgaria. The forum will give me the chance to acquaint the prestigious audience with the abilities we have.
Question: What is the most important issue within the current visit?
Rumen Radev: As early as the day of my arrival I will meet the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. I will also meet UN Secretary General and other world leaders.
In 2018 we resumed with President Putin the top-level dialogue between Bulgaria and Russia after it had been interrupted for decades. The governments should materialize this dialogue. I think that both of us with President Putin expect this to happen. The fact that this is our second meeting within a short period of time introduces a new dynamics in our relations.
Question: What are the most promising spheres for economic cooperation between the two countries in the future?
Rumen Radev: Russia is among Bulgaria’s most important foreign trade partners, in the sphere of tourism, construction and food industry. As far as energy resources are concerned, Russia’s importance is dominant. Our country imports Russian energy products worth billions of leva and this import forms the basic part of our trade.
I am convinced that our economic cooperation with Russia should develop, despite the sanctions and countersanctions, as our western partners develop it, particularly in the energy sphere. Naturally, important principles should be observed such as competitiveness, transparency, security of supplies – and particularly for Bulgaria – at reasonable prices.
Question: How do you assess the prospects for continuing the Turkish Stream gas pipeline through Bulgarian territory and for resuming the construction of the Belene Nuclear Power Plant?
Rumen Radev: We have a good cooperation in the sphere of the transit of Russian natural gas through Bulgaria. Currently we are building the capacity for receiving and distributing additionally Russian gas and gas from other sources through our territory.
Our country has a well-developed gas transit system, which is currently expanded and the gas connections with neighboring countries will ensure the access of Russian gas to Central Europe. Only a couple of days ago the first sod was turned of the new inter-connector with Greece. Therefore we expect to receive gas from Turkish Stream as well.
As far as the prospects are concerned, I have said more than once that the most secure, the most reliable and cheapest route is the direct one. Therefore the logical choice to increase the transit of Russian gas through the Black Sea is for this to happen with a pipeline to Bulgaria.
As for the Belene Nuclear Power Plant project, I think that it is inevitable – three billion leva have already been invested in it, which is the money of the Bulgarian taxpayers. Moreover the developing industry will need more secure energy. However, for it to be implemented, clear juridical, temporal and price frameworks are necessary. The procedure for selecting a strategic investor for the new Nuclear Power Plant was officially announced on 22 May and moreover in the EU’s official newspaper. In the next 90 days those willing to construct Bulgaria’s second Nuclear Power Plant can declare their intention. The whole procedure should be completed within a year and on 22 May 2020 it should be clear who will construct the Belene Nuclear Power Plant.
Question: In terms of a ten-point rating system, how can the relations between Bulgaria and Russia be rated? What is your opinion about the current state of affairs, moreover given that in the near future the 140th anniversary of establishing the diplomatic relations will be marked?
Rumen Radev: The relations between our two countries have a thousand-year-old history, and the historical tie is very strong. The alphabet in which the people of Russia writes today came from Bulgaria, and so does the religion it professes and also the traditional liturgical language. Later Russia sacrificed the lives of tens of thousands of its sons for Bulgaria’s freedom. Bulgarians have not forgotten this fact. The centuries-old historical ties are the reason for the extreme closeness between our peoples, which has stood the test of time and the vicissitudes of politics. Therefore I would not like to put these deeply emotional relations in tables with numbers. It is the duty of the current politicians to build our relations on a solid historical basis and not to serve transient ideological influences.
Question: From the viewpoint of Bulgaria’s President, what hinders lifting the sanctions regime between Russia and the EU?
Rumen Radev: The conditions for lifting the sanctions, as they are formulated by the Council of the EU, pertain to the complete fulfilment of the Minsk agreement by the two parties. Achieving progress on this condition serves the interests of both the EU and Russia.
Question: Let us continue talking about foreign policy. You have a university degree, MA in the sphere of strategic investigations. What is your opinion about the current stage of global development, considering that the world has become so unstable, moreover politics started dictating the rules in both sports and economy?
Rumen Radev: The reason for the unstable system of international relations today is the growing irregularity in the development of different world political and economic centers. The free and uncontrolled migration of capitals exacerbates the situation. Globalization made this irregularity in development more dramatic, which resulted in drastic changes in the economic and therefrom in the political potential of the different countries. As a result, old conflicts were revived and new contradictions surfaced, creating conditions for conflicts. Who would presume that China today will be the major country to embrace and support the free world trade idea and the US will impose protectionist measures and sanctions? Who would presume that the economic weight of world capitalism will be transferred from Western Europe and North America to East Asia. Who would presume that on the Old Continent we will again fight against neo-fascism and xenophobia?
At the same time there are no adequate mechanisms and tools to regulate the ensuing from the disproportional development ambitions of the various international actors to occupy or preserve their position on the world arena. Multilateral diplomacy is under pressure, the UN fights with the consequences from the crises, rather than making attempts to prevent them. A lot of its agencies suffer a real crisis of identity. Regional organizations are often blocked by internal contradictions. Instability logically creates the temptation to refuse to seek mutually profitable solutions through dialogue and creates the risk of unilateral action and there have been increased attempts to find solutions based on force.
Question: You have more than once reiterated the necessity for a further NATO enlargement, who is this enlargement directed against? Does Russia really threaten the security in Europe, including that of Bulgaria?
Rumen Radev: I think the paradigm is flawed for guaranteeing the security of one country at the expense of the security of another country. Such a formula leads to instability, mistrust and creates risks. The Western Balkan countries’ NATO membership, which Bulgaria supports, aims to reduce the conflict potential in our complicated region.
The Republic of North Macedonia’s NATO membership can no way threaten anybody.
I strongly support easing the tension between NATO and Russia and resuming the full dialogue on security issues. Building more trust would overcome many of the fears that exist today.
Question: How will Bulgaria develop in the next three to four years?
Rumen Radev: I think that we should focus on education and the quality of life of the Bulgarians.
This means that Bulgaria should work to ensure economic and social cohesion with the other EU member states. As one of the “eastern gates” to Europe, Bulgaria has knowledge about Russia and Turkey, which other EU member states do not have. I think this is our advantage which the EU and Russia can take advantage of in the development of the dialogue and the economic ties.
Question: And how will its aviation and armed forces develop and will the cooperation with Russia continue in these spheres?
Rumen Radev: For years on end our armed forces, and our aviation in particular, were neglected at the expense of other important sectors in public life. This had its impact on the processes of introducing new models of armament and equipment. Hopefully these negative trends are in the past and evidence of this are the launched projects for rearmament of the Bulgarian army. Naturally, aviation is one of the leading projects.
On the other hand, the funds allocated by the Bulgarian government are insufficient to finance the whole rearmament of the armed forces, which means one thing – mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia to maintain the available armament. Even when we acquire new equipment under the launched projects, we will need some time to learn how to manage it, and in this period we should maintain the existing armament and equipment. Aviation will be no exception from these processes.
Question: What are the pros and cons ensuing from your work as Head of State?
Rumen Radev: The high public trust in the presidential institution is a strong stimulus, but it also obliges the public to be an efficient corrective of governance policies and alternatives. Therefore, I will continue to use all constitutional powers so that the public interest be placed in the focus of public debates.
As any human being I would like to be more often with my family and relatives, which is not always possible and I am grateful for their understanding and support.