* Bulgaria won't veto more sanctions against Russia
* Pro-Russian sympathies could topple Bulgarian government
* Bulgaria at mercy of Russian energy supplies
By Matthias Williams and Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA, April 10 Georgi Kadiev is, like many of
his fellow Bulgarians, caught between Russia and the West.
A member of parliament with the ruling Socialist party, his
government has gone along with sanctions on Moscow over its
annexation of Crimea, but at the same time he feels the cultural
and historical pull of Bulgaria's long association with Russia.
"My father was an officer in the Soviet army," he said. "He
spent his life shoulder to shoulder with the Soviet army. It's
very hard to explain to him now that we should impose sanctions
Bulgaria has long been an anomaly in Europe, a country
inside the European Union and the NATO military alliance, yet
which feels close to Russia. That tension has been thrown into
even sharper relief by the stand-off over Ukraine, with many
feeling under pressure to choose between Moscow and Brussels.
Bulgaria is now facing its sternest test of loyalty to the
European Union since joining in 2007 and has not wavered, even
though it risks economic hardship and a domestic backlash could
topple Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski's fragile coalition.
The danger for the government is that the nationalist Attack
party - on whose support the Socialists rely to stay in power -
could carry out a threat to withdraw their unofficial support if
Sofia backs more EU sanctions against the Kremlin.
Bulgaria is highly vulnerable to the political fallout of
the Crimea crisis compared to other countries formerly behind
the Iron Curtain such as pro-Western Poland, or fellow 2007 EU
entrant Romania, which had already begun to drift from Moscow in
Communist times and is less hooked on Russian energy supplies.
Many former Communist countries in the EU kept ties to
Moscow but most view Russia as a former occupier and still a
threat. Bulgaria is different because it sees Moscow as a
friend. When its economic and cultural ties are taken together,
it is probably the EU state closest to Moscow.
But Sofia has gone along with initial EU sanctions against
Moscow and its foreign minister said in an interview that it
would not veto more punitive measures if they were imposed.
"We are not going to impose a veto, in the same time we are
not going to push for such sanctions," Bulgarian Foreign
Minister Kristian Vigenin told Reuters.
"The risks for us are high. We are one of the most
vulnerable countries. We have made that clear and our partners
know that very well. Of course the biggest risk is the delivery
of energy resources, especially gas," he added.
RUSSIA'S 'TROJAN HORSE'
Bulgaria was seen as Russia's most pliable ally in Soviet
times and to this day its leaders have to fend off accusations
that the country is a "Trojan horse" inside the EU, secretly
working in the interests of the Kremlin.
Its Cold War alliance left a deep economic footprint on the
Balkan state, especially as it is almost entirely dependent on
Russian energy supplies. More than 85 percent of gas is bought
from Gazprom, its only oil refinery is controlled by
LUKOIL and its only nuclear plant runs on Russian fuel.
Despite joining NATO ten years ago, and taking part in
U.S.-led war games since the Crimea crisis erupted, Bulgaria's
armed forces are similarly dependent on Russia for repairs and
spare parts for their Soviet-made jet fighters and tanks.
Russia is Bulgaria's second biggest trade partner and
imposing tough economic sanctions on Moscow would hit about
2,000 Bulgarian companies, employing about 80,000 people, who
depend on business with Russia, the foreign minister said.
Russian holidaymakers are the lifeblood of Bulgaria's
tourism industry, which contributes about 13 percent of the
country's gross domestic product, prompting fears about what
would happen if the EU restricted Russians' entry into the bloc.
About 700,000 Russians - a figure equivalent to a tenth of
Bulgaria's population - visited the Black Sea state last year.
They travelled to resorts such as the coastal town of Pomorie,
so full of Russian sunseekers and homeowners that one of its
districts is called "Little Moscow".
Worries about the economic damage a prolonged standoff with
Russia could cause, coupled with nostalgia for communism among
the older generation and a growing disillusionment with the EU,
have prompted calls by some for closer ties with Moscow.
"Bulgaria should veto any, I repeat, any sanctions on
Russia," said Emil Vangelov, a retired teacher in Sofia. "On the
contrary, we should expand our economic, political and cultural
relations with Moscow. Can't you see that Bulgaria is
disappearing after all the lies from the U.S. and EU?"
The decorations in the office of Attack party leader Volen
Siderov leader offer clues as to why the country's fragile
coalition government, which has only just emerged from one
political crisis, could soon be heading for another.
Antique swords and pistols hang on the wall, some of them
relics of Russia's battles with Turkey in the 19th century,
which liberated Bulgaria from 500 years of Ottoman rule. Propped
up on the floor lies a painting of the medieval school of
Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, whose
teachings influenced the Russian Orthodox church.
Bulgaria's ties with Russia, with whom it shares a similar
language and the Cyrillic alphabet, are stamped on the cityscape
of its capital. Sofia's most prominent monument is the Alexander
Nevsky Cathedral - built in thanks to the tens of thousands of
Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria's freedom.
Siderov has played on such historical associations to whip
up pro-Russian feelings among voters ahead of European elections
in May, a vote that is seen as a key test of the Bulgarian
government's long term survival.
The Socialists could lose the votes of supporters angered by
the government's going along with sanctions. A direct descendent
of the Communist regime in power before the fall of the Berlin
Wall, the party has a strong pro-Russia wing and much of its
older, rural vote base leans more towards Moscow than the West.
The ruling party has been beset by internal squabbles and,
even before events in Ukraine began, faced the prospect of
losing votes in May to a leftist splinter group led by a former
president, and another movement led by a former TV anchor.
As things stand, the right-wing GERB party will likely come
out on top in the EU polls, a scenario that could spark a snap
general election in the autumn.
Street protests felled one government in Bulgaria last year
and almost toppled the current administration, which has
survived three confidence votes since taking office. Another
bout of instability could further hamper much-needed social and
economic reforms in the EU's poorest member.
(Additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Giles