| SOFIA, March 17
SOFIA, March 17 European Union sanctions on
Russia are hurting Bulgaria, which should improve ties with
Moscow and defend its interests within the 28-member bloc, the
leader of the leftist Socialist party said ahead of a March 26
Kornelia Ninova, 48, who took the reins of the former
communist party last year, saw its support almost double to
about 30 percent after Russia-friendly Rumen Radev, backed by
her party, won the presidency in November.
Her party is now a key contender in the parliamentary
election, running neck and neck with the centre-right GERB party
which has been less critical of the European Union's stance on
Ninova's Socialists seek a bigger role for the state in the
economy as well as closer ties with Moscow, in contrast to
GERB's platform to deepen ties with Brussels and pursue
The close party standings in the polls mean the outcome of
the race is unpredictable and Bulgaria will most likely have
another fragile coalition government.
"The Bulgarian Socialist Party is against the extension of
the sanctions against Russia because they hurt the Bulgarian
national interest - the Bulgarian economy, agriculture,
tourism," Ninova told Reuters in an interview. "We lost from
In her campaigning, she has explicitly promised to try to
block the sanctions, imposed on Russia for its annexation of
Crimea in Ukraine, next time they are put to an EU vote.
No EU country can veto the sanctions extension, which
requires only a qualified majority, but Bulgaria holds the EU's
rotating presidency in early 2018, giving a platform for its
"We are firmly for the European membership and future of
Bulgaria ... But we expect the same towards Bulgaria. We do not
accept double standards, Europe on two speeds and different
attitude," she said.
The Kremlin's most loyal satellite in the Cold War era, the
country of 7.2 million remains a popular holiday destination for
Russians, many of whom have bought property there including on
the Black Sea coast.
It is almost entirely dependent on Russia for its energy
supplies and many Bulgarians feel a strong cultural affinity for
the country, with which they share the Cyrillic script and
Centre-right GERB party agrees that the sanctions are
harmful for Bulgaria, but says Sofia should show its solidarity
with Europe. It links any lifting of the sanctions with the
observance of the Minsk agreements.
The Socialists also want to revive some Russian-led energy
projects like the Belene nuclear power plant. Bulgaria pulled
out of the 10 billion euros project in 2012 because of costs and
concerns over increased energy dependence on Kremlin.
The party plans to set up a 500 million levs ($274 million)
state fund to boost industry and increase incomes in the EU's
poorest member state. The party pledges to increase pensions by
an average 20-30 percent.
The plans will be funded by an accelerating economy as well
as a "draconian" fight against what Ninova calls "a parallel
state" that deprives taxpayers of about 10 billion levs a year.
($1 = 1.8212 leva)
(Editing by Radu Marinas and Dominic Evans)