Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 33

Bulgarian President Petr Stoyanov wound up a two-day, unofficial visit to Moscow on February 15. Stoyanov was in the Russian capital to accept a legal prize awarded by the Moscow Lawyers Club, but used the occasion to conduct talks with both Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. The talks between Primakov and Stoyanov in particular were said to have focused on bilateral trade relations and on developments in the Balkans. During Stoyanov’s meeting with Luzhkov the two sides agreed that a delegation from Moscow would visit Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in May of this year (Russian agencies, February 14-15).

Relations between Moscow and Sofia have been strained since Stoyanov’s Union of Democratic Forces came to power in Bulgaria some two years ago. Since that time, Bulgaria has oriented itself away from its traditional ties with Russia, and has sought instead to build closer relations with the West. Moscow has been particularly upset over Sofia’s outspoken intention to seek membership in NATO.

More recently, the two countries have clashed over the crisis in Kosovo. That tension was evident during a brief visit to Sofia by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on February 3. Ivanov expressed some displeasure over remarks made by Stoyanov–and published by a German newspaper on February 1–which indicated Sofia’s support for threatened NATO military strikes on Yugoslavia (Itar-Tass, February 3).

Prior to his departure for Moscow on February 14, however, Stoyanov suggested that Russian-Bulgarian relations are on the mend. That spirit of cooperation was also evident in remarks to the press which followed Stoyanov’s talks with Primakov, when the Bulgarian president said that the two countries had managed to rid themselves of the “deficit of friendliness and trust” that had existed previously. He also said that the two countries had “very few” unresolved economic questions and that conditions are ripening for “very pragmatic trade and political relations” (Itar-Tass, February 15).

Bulgaria depends heavily on Russian exports of oil, natural gas, nuclear fuel and raw materials, and would like to gain access to the Russian market to help Bulgaria surmount its own economic woes. Russia, in turn, faces debts of some US$50 million to Bulgaria. The two sides reportedly discussed proposals involving Russian arms deliveries to Bulgaria to at least partly offset that debt. On the subject of broader trade relations, Moscow and Belgrade agreed to discuss a number of concrete economic cooperation proposals at the next session of an intergovernmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation. It is to be held in Moscow in March (Itar-Tass, February 15).

Stoyanov and Primakov reportedly devoted a considerable amount of time during their talks to the Kosovo crisis. There was little said about the substance of those talks, however, suggesting that the two sides had little success in narrowing their differences in that area.