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Bulgaria’s Black Sea Dilemma: NATO Ally or Russian Gateway? (Valeri R. Ratchev, Todor Tagarev, The Jamestown Foundation)

The Black Sea is the region most severely affected by the tensions between the Russian Federation and the Transatlantic alliance. An arc of conflicts, extending from Moldova through Ukraine to the South Caucasus and Central Asia, serves the Kremlin’s strategy of geopolitical control. Russia’s sharp aggression against Georgia and Ukraine turned the Black Sea from an area of potent cooperation into a potential battleground. For the littoral states, coping with the Russian military threat and its hybrid influence is an existential priority.

However, Bulgaria seems distanced and keeps a low profile in that Black Sea contest. Despite witnessing over a decade of growing tensions and Russia’s ongoing military buildup, Sofia has never recognized the Black Sea as a region with a unique identity and important security dimensions. As such, no Bulgarian government to date has developed a specific policy toward this region nor seen the need to play an active role, as a full-fledged European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, in drafting and implementing a common strategy for the Black Sea. Bulgaria’s regional interests and policy are, instead, primarily limited to energy, tourism and trade, preventing mass refugee flows, and averting domestic religious radicalization; Sofia views every regional security problem strictly through those lenses.

Bulgaria’s Black Sea Dilemma: NATO Ally or Russian Gateway? – Jamestown