Bulgaria, between EU streams and US sanctions

Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov and Russian president Vladimir Putin, on the same stream. SOURCE: southfront.org
Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov and Russian president Vladimir Putin, on the same stream. SOURCE: southfront.org

NATO with its agitated waters was once more the star of the month in Bulgarian media. The Alliance Summit in London at the beginning of December was the perfect occasion to take a family picture and also underline what are the most recent feuds inside the group.

Pogled.info chose, for instance, to quote the German media outlet Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, which believes that „without Russia as the enemy, NATO would lose its meaning. More than that, Macron is willing to build a partnership with Moscow and that may lead to reshaping the Alliance’s goals and tasks”.

The Russian president Vladimir Putin also expressed his opinion on the matter and, no surprise here, is on the same page with the aforementioned argument: what’s the point of continuously enlarging NATO since there’s no Soviet Union anymore therefore no threat?

Putin, though, does not seem to simply wait arms crossed, at least according to an analysis by Ahmed Abbuduh (AP), cited by 24chasa.bg, which says that the Russian leader “turned his attention to Libya as part of his plan to weaken NATO”.

The summit in London, however, was aimed at softening tensions and tones (related to money spent by each country, to future threats, to China and Turkey) amongst members of the club as Reuters, quoted by focus-news.net, noted mentioning that the gathering is a “Trump era” one.

Headlines all over world media were made by Donald Trump’s statements at the summit in London, which is no wonder, yet some of them show, no matter how brief, it’s not all fun and games inside NATO. For example, Trump called his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, “malicious”, and the Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau, “double-faced”.

Whereas the name calling activity was rather funny, Trump’s intention to impose sanctions to those countries that do not agree to pay as much as 2% of their GDP to NATO was not.

Even more complicated to handle is the French “fox”, believes Valery Naydenov, an expert quoted by 24chasa.bg who says, under the “A fox in NATO’s chicken coop” headline, that “some time ago, de Gaulle made France get out of NATO. Now, Macron wants the entire EU to do that and, of course, the White House does not like this at all.”

For pogled.info, nuances are too much so the media outlet simply outlines that “NATO can only exist as a collection of scandals” and adds that the what happened at the London summit was simply “predictable”.

For the same pogled.info, throwing American rocks at the American president is something they couldn’t miss. So when Kevin Baron, Defense One executive editor, wrote that, by not attending the summit final press conference, Trump blew up a big opportunity (“Instead, the NATO 70th anniversary meeting ends with a confused whimper”), the Bulgarian media outlet jumped on it.

Finally, pogled.info used the words of another foreign journalist (Andrea Fais, Global Times) to say that “The time has come for NATO to give up on its schizophrenic policy and to change its approach to Russia and China” and to add that Trump’s “America first” strategy was the starting point of NATO’s shaky climate.

The American nightmare

The traditional enemy of the US, Russia, plays its part no matter what. And that’s no good news, believes Kathleen Troy McFarland, former deputy security adviser to the American president, who says that “impeachment and the US deeply divided political environment is what Russia has been willing for all along. This is Putin’s dream – all Americans fighting each other”.

In the meantime, US Assistant Secretary of State David Hale says that “the US is unable to achieve its main goals with sanctions against Moscow”.

John Sipher, a former chief of station for the CIA, that worked for more than 27 years in Russia, Europe and Asia wrote for the Washington Post under the headline “Trump’s phone habits and private diplomacy are helping Russia” that “The president and his amateur advisers are giving the Kremlin ammunition to use against the U.S.”. A piece that pogled.info was more than happy to publish almost entirely.

There was some room for Soviet Union ex-president Mikhail Gorbachev in Bulgarian media, which quoted the Russian saying that once INF Treaty demised, although US seeks unilateral military superiority this might prove not only difficult to reach but also very dangerous.

In terms of oil and gas supplies there’s another conflict going on between the two super-powers. Focus-news.net cites the Russian media outlet Vzglyad that wonders whether by imposing sanctions not only on Nord Stream 2 but also on Turkish Stream – although the latter is already in place – the US will succeed in cutting the gas streams aiming at circumventing Ukraine or not (a situation also covered by duma.bg).

Russia’s reply to US sanctions was voiced by PM Dmitry Medvedev who requested his ministers to develop some sort of retaliation measures, according to Kommersant, quoted by focus-news.net here, here and here.

Russian MFA Sergey Lavrov also criticized the US sanctions which he called an “impudent and cynical interference in the EU business environment”.

The twisted pipeline

 When it comes to Bulgaria financial and strategic interests, the Turkish Stream is complicated business. Pogled.info reminded its readers that, “pressured by the European Commission, Bulgaria stopped being a part of South (Turkish) Stream in 2014 and then acted in favor of the EU and the US, trying to harm Russia.”

Focus-news.net cited an opinion published by TASS media agency which briefly points out the main events of 2019 from a regional pipeline perspective: “Balkan Stream building difficulties, spyware and hacking scandals, arguments over Soviet history, diplomats being expelled by both sides, a pro-Russian activist arrested in Sofia – 2019 was a tough year for Sofia – Moscow relationship. Yet business with Russia is very profitable for Bulgaria, a country that finds little understanding in the EU when it comes to that therefore it is forced to maneuver carefully.”

While Sofia is rather cautious when dealing with Brussels and Washington, Ankara makes efforts to look unimpressed. The Turkish NTV reported that President Recep Erdogan has promised to retaliate somehow if US sanctions were imposed on  Turkish Stream, a position covered by 24chasa.bg and focus-news.net.

As for Russia, no shyness whatsoever: the MFA spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also commented on the US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream by saying that “the US has banned some countries from developing their economy, soon the US might ask them to stop breathing.”

In December, the authors of this report examined 16 Bulgarian media outlets, the most relevant in terms of readership.

Most of the articles (64) were provided by pogled.info, for the fourth month in a row.

Focus-news.net is ranked second (37 articles), for the fifth month in a row.

On the third place – 24chasa.bg (11 articles).

63 of the collected articles could be classified as “neutral”. 18 of those are news, the other 45 – analyses.

83 articles are labeled “biased” (17 of them are news, 66 are analyses).

* The authors of this analysis/study divided the media articles into two categories (news and analysis), each classified as biased or neutral. A geographical criterion was also used to link the media articles to the EU and the US. According to this study, a piece of news is nothing more but a short article covering a fact or a statement whereas an “analysis” may be a column, an investigative piece or any other type of article that is based on several facts and statements that are premises for the conclusion that the author of the article wishes to make public. The neutral characteristic is attributed to those news and analyses that use actual quotes (and not made up or out of context ones), rely on fact checking and logical syllogisms, provide side relevant data (context) in order for the public to get the bigger picture. News and analyses are labelled as biased when, on the contrary, the journalist’s work is not compliant with all of the above: quotes are partial and/or manipulated/manipulative, there’s no vetting process, neutral context is not added (and when there’s some context provided, facts are selected to match the conclusion – which, in this sort of cases, is pre-set – and not the other way round).