Dr. Alexander Yordanov is Bulgarian politic and diplomat. In his long career Dr. Yordanov has been member of the Parliament three times, chairman of the 36th Parliament of Bulgaria from the Union of Democratic Forces and a member of the 8th Grand National Assembly which adopted the current constitution, currently he is a member of the European Parliament. Dr. Yordanov is convinced democrat and critic of the Russian imperialistic politics.
Question: Mr. Yordanov, the subject of the Russian hybrid war is often present in your comments on domestic and foreign policy topics. Can you tell us why?
Answer: This is a matter directly related to the national security and defense of our country. Russia’s hybrid attack is unfolding more and more aggressively. It aims not only to change the “chip of the Bulgarians”, but also to replace with lies and myths the true history of Bulgaria, Europe and the world in the twentieth century. It is done through manipulation of public opinion and through misinformation. The media and the Internet suggest that when we were tied to the regime in Moscow, we lived better. This absolute lie is aimed at brainwashing the younger generation.
Question: How do citizens recognize this war?
Answer: This is a crossbreed war. Our historical and cultural-spiritual memory is being attacked. An attempt is being made to fit Bulgaria into the so-called, from the Kremlin ideologues, “Russian world”. Its future goal is to change even our national identity, that is why our historical existence is manipulatively interpreted. This is a war against democratic institutions, against our historic success – our membership in the European Union and NATO. We are one of Europe’s border countries, but we are in the “center” of the Russian aggression. The opponent has already succeeded. The election of Rumen Radev as president is such a success, as well as the fierce attack on the current government.
In European Bulgaria, a number of political parties are pro-Russian.
The Kremlin has created a hierarchically organized system of its state bodies, scientific institutions and related media for the purposes of hybrid warfare. It is a system that is responsible for developing and coordinating strategies to carry out military and non-military actions. Another task performed by this system is the information propaganda, which means constant misinformation about events and processes in the attacked country and manipulation of public opinion. This aims for the citizens to accept the manipulation as a “people’s position” and a “national interest”. Later to be introduced to the international community as a “nationally responsible policy”. Unfortunately, Bulgaria failed to achieve full decommunisation through lustration of the Communist Party and State Security. At the moment, these units are the main collaborators of the “aggressors”. They and many of their heirs. Their presence in state institutions, universities, media and municipal administrations makes our country vulnerable.
Question: What are the methods and forms of this war?
Answer: For now, it is non-military. If Bulgaria was not a member of NATO and the EU, it was possible that we would have already become the object of military aggression, as it happened in Ukraine. We should be concerned about the fact that we have pro-Russian paramilitary formations that are also preparing for the “hot” phase of the war. They are conducting undisturbed “operational and tactical exercises.” It is also possible that they are being armed illegally. It is a fact that they wave Russian flags demonstratively in public places, share anti-European and anti-NATO positions, threaten Bulgarian citizens with violence and pose a serious threat to our national security.
Question: What methods does the Kremlin use in its attack towards Bulgaria?
Answer: In the first place, these are the political instruments: assistance in the formation of political parties and support for pro-Russian parties and politicians; mastering positions in the legislative and executive branches; open interference in the presidential election; stimulating corruption. In second place are the humanitarian instruments: opposition and misinterpretation of the Bulgarian historical and cultural heritage; propaganda of the well-known Russian mythologies about the “brotherhood”, the “Slavic world”, “Moscow – center and defender of Orthodoxy” and others. The economic instruments follow – energy and economic blackmail, high tariffs on Bulgarian goods on the Russian market, control and even a monopoly in a number of economic segments – mainly in the energy sector.
The methods of the special services should not be underestimated either: the introduction of a Russian agency in the central state administration, in diplomacy and the army, in local government, in trade unions and the media, in large companies in the field of energy and military production. Provoking crisis situations in the country is something we have witnessed for several months now. It is most clearly expressed through the behavior of the president and the so-called protest. The action of the prosecutor’s office in the presidency, carried out with the permission of the court, was the result of information that the head of state’s associates were “trading in influence” and leaking classified information.
Information tools are also important. We are increasingly witnessing anti-European and anti-American media campaigns, active disinformation about events, personalities and policies in the EU and the USA. Disinformation campaigns are organized through fake news sites. I would also mention the diplomatic instruments: appointments to the diplomatic service of former agents and collaborators of the communist secret services – Bulgarian and Soviet. And last but not least, these are the financial instruments: direct and indirect financing of a controlled political elite and civil society organizations.
Through combinations of these tools, the aim is to turn the war into a permanent state of the Bulgarian society. The main goal is to create programmed chaos, social destruction and impossible to overcome conflicts in order to weaken the pro-European forces of the Bulgarian society. The attack against the Bulgarian government, which has been going on for several months on the streets is a generalized expression of this hybrid war.
Question: Under what conditions can a hybrid war succeed?
Answer: A condition for the success of any hybrid war is that the attacked country does not fulfill its basic functions, that authorities are passive and even working for those who attack it, and that society is constantly confronted and divided. The hybrid war is successful when the state administration does not do its job, the special services are inactive and there are groups, most often mafia related, which constantly erode the citizens trust in the ability of the institutions to enforce the rule of law. In our country, the aggressor also relies on his “fifth column” of civil organizations. His main goal is to win the battle for the mind. For this purpose, it needs media, access to modern technologies and telecommunications (television and radio, public Internet portals, websites, hosting platforms, etc.), which help the attack to strike a blow to the minds of every Bulgarian citizen. Because hybrid war is total war.
The public appearances of our pro-Russian president, especially in the last year and his attack on the legally elected government and parliament, which he carried out in violation of the Bulgarian constitution, are indicative of the totality of the hybrid war against Bulgaria at the moment.
Question: Russia is waging a hybrid war and pursuing its national interests. Who in our country defends the Bulgarian and European interests?
Answer: The problem is that in the expression “protection of national interests” some Bulgarian politicians use anti-European and anti-NATO content. When Russian Deputy Speaker of Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party Pyotr Tolstoy said “jokingly” that Russia was ready to “buy Bulgaria out” a few years ago, the Süddeutsche Zeitung commented on the statement as follows : “The problem is not that someone wants to buy Bulgaria. The problem is that there is someone to sell it. Moreover, cheap.” And he concluded: “The conquest of Bulgaria is at an advanced stage.”
Analysts from the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington came to the same conclusion, noting that “Russia directly controls a quarter of the Bulgarian economy.” The report by Ben Cardin, deputy chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, entitled “Putin’s Asymmetric Attack on Democracy in Russia and Europe,” also mentions Russia’s interference in Bulgaria’s 2016 presidential election. A “secret strategic document offering a way to victory in the elections” with recommendations for a “fake news campaign and exaggerated opinion polls” provided by the Russian side was broadly commented. According to the report the document recommended a platform tied to the Kremlin’s interests to be adopted in the election campaign: lifting sanctions against Russia, criticizing NATO, encouraging Brexit. Developments since the election of Rumen Radev as president confirmed the “recommendations” made.
The attempt for a left-wing uprising in the capital, which we have been witnessing since July, fits organically into the Russian hybrid aggression against our country. It is its iceberg. Its goal is to destabilize Bulgaria and divert us from the European path of development. It is significant that the initiators of this riot rejected the reasonable proposal to convene the Eighth Grand National Assembly to adopt a new constitution that would correct the main shortcomings of the current one, especially in the area of the independent judiciary. Which means that in the speech of the “protesters” the concept of “rule of law” is just a mask that hides other intentions.
Such an intention was the president’s ambition to resign the government so that he could appoint a caretaker cabinet and determine his policy. This is not the Bulgarian European agenda. That is why the position of the European People’s Party was explained in the sense that the problems, if any, are not solved in the streets, but in the regular free and democratic elections.
Question: Is it possible for one country to deal with another country’s hybrid aggression on its own?
Answer: It is not possible, although much depends on its will and determination. In our case, it is time to sound the alarm and ask for help from our NATO and EU allies. The Bulgarian government should be congratulated on its decision to buy American fighter jets for defense purposes and to expel Russian spies under diplomatic cover.
Parliamentary elections are coming up next year. Many pro-Russian parties have gone to parliament, in addition to the traditional Bulgarian Socialistic Party(BSP). If they manage to enter the next parliament and form a government, they can raise their glasses of champagne in Kremlin. The Resolution on the Rule of Law in Bulgaria, recently adopted by the European Parliament, was in fact a hybrid action initiated by MEPs Elena Yoncheva from BSP and Radan Kanev from Democratic Bulgaria. It is no coincidence that it received the support of the Socialists, the Greens, the far left and the left liberals.
Question: How the European Parliament reacts to the Russian hybrid war?
Answer: Several resolutions on reports have been adopted calling for a unified response to Russian information terrorism, including the fight against fake news, pro-Russian propaganda and disinformation disseminated through the media and online. Such a character in Bulgaria is, for example, a number of television programs, as well as Peter Volgin’s programs “Deconstruction” and “Politically Incorrect” on the Bulgarian National Radio. In a number of media outlets, objective information about the EU has been replaced by Russian “points of reference”. I took part in drafting resolutions on the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War and the importance of European remembrance for the future of the Old Continent. Through it, the European Parliament condemned the use of symbols of the communist totalitarian regime in public, as well as the existence of monuments and memorial plaques in public places that glorify the Soviet army, which for many European countries, including Bulgaria, was an army occupier. Its celebration creates conditions for distorting the truth about the consequences of World War II. And they are tragic for our country, because that is when we remain outside freedom.
In the year 2016, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution containing 38 recommendations to the Council, including the establishment of a Code of Conduct against Organized Disinformation and the sharing of data on interference in electoral processes. Many times in the meetings of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, one of the theses I advocate is that the ‘fake news market’ in the EU must be destroyed. It is through such news that the Kremlin is inciting European citizens against their own governments. We observed this during the protests of the “Yellow Vests” in France, we observe it today in our country in the performance of the so-called Poisonous Trio and the demonstrations of the protesters, who use typical Russian speech and symbols of hate- coffins, gallows, throwing eggs and more. These are Russian “gestures” of aggression. It is also very important to know who sponsors political parties and whether the money for some of them comes from Russian intelligence. It has become known, for example, that Bulgarian oligarchs with undisguised Russian connections support the revolt against the government even from abroad.
I would also mention the report of my colleague Sandra Kalniete from Latvia “The state of political relations between the EU and Russia”, according to which “the coming to power of Vladimir Putin is one of the greatest catastrophes of the 21st century, so the time for friendly and diplomatic language with Russia is over after the annexation of Crimea and the aggression in eastern Ukraine.” The European Parliament is of the opinion that the sanctions imposed on individuals and organizations supporting the Kremlin’s policy must continue until Russia stops violating international law and human rights.
Question: In conclusion, what policy should Bulgaria pursue towards the Russian Federation today?
Answer: This should be a policy of equality in relations. And by no means should it be “fraternal.” Because the Russians understand “brotherhood” as their ‘brothers’ serving them. It is high time we asked the Kremlin to apologize for the occupation of our country in 1944 and for the forcible imposition of the communist regime. The Russian Federation is the legal successor of the disintegrated Soviet Union, its state doctrine is a hybrid – an amalgam of old Russian imperial and Soviet political doctrines, so it must apologize to the Bulgarian people. And only then to build equal relations. It is important for Bulgarian politicians to understand that the Bulgarian national interest is accomplished through our membership in NATO and the EU. Our relations with Russia are beyond the scope of our national interest. They are something on the side that we need to develop, but actively protecting ourselves from Russian hybrid megalomania.