The spy affair involving the top Russophile in Bulgaria – Nikolay Malinov, has received an ominous turn in the last three days. Mr. Malinov was miraculously granted a three-day exemption from the ban to leave the country, allowing him to fly to Moscow and receive a Soviet time Оrder of Friendship from President Putin. The motives are clear – for outstanding contributions to the Russian nation.
Mr. Malinov is what ideally fits into the term ‘Russian agent of influence.’
The invitation and the ceremony were all carefully staged showcase of Vladimir Putin’s imperial hiatus. In the case of Mr. Malinov, it was a clear case of marked red lines the Bulgarian PM Borissov should not cross.
The most intriguing part of the story is the five-minute exchange with President Putin and the counsel given by him to remain patient to the Bulgarian authorities, for they are under pressure from abroad – an obscure allusion to the US and the EU.
This sheds light on understanding the motives behind Russia’s extraordinary self-restraint in delaying reciprocal action for the expelled Russian diplomat and the investigations against the Russophiles, now considered by Moscow off-limits to Bulgarian prosecutors.
It becomes crystal clear that the Russian President is well versed in the Bulgarian government attempt to appease Washington while seeking to see through the Turk Stream via Bulgaria and allow fly overs of Russian military transport aircraft with S-400 system en route to Serbia. Mr. Putin sounds protective of Borisov, which provides a new angle of interpretation on the reasons for his leniency to the Bulgarian government’s anti-Russian rhetoric.
Nikolay Malinov made it clear in no uncertain terms that President Putin’s visit to Bulgaria is conditional upon his treatment by the Bulgarian authorities. Which adds insult to the injury Putin’s spokesperson Peskov inflicted by threatening Bulgaria with dire consequences if the General Prosecutor indicts the leader of the Bulgarian Russophiles.
The US appeasement operation peaked 20 days ago, with the visit to Washington of the heads of the Bulgarian secret services and the two top-ranking officials at the Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor’s office. The GP Sotir Tzatzarov, known for his close relationship with his Russian homolog Yury Chaika, had a slim chance to get a warm reception in the US. Yet, he suddenly opened an investigation into the activities of Bulgarian Russophiles.
The first round of media frenzy around the Russophile gate ended with the General Prosecutor arresting and accusing Nikolay Malinov of being a foreign agent of influence, which is a code word for an NGO disguised “spy’. The charges brought against him were specific – he spied for the Kremlin undermining Bulgarian national security.
Shortly after this opening salvo, the General Prosecutor and the new GP-designate Ivan Geshev, accompanied by the heads of the secret services of Bulgaria, flew to Washington and met top officials at the NSC and the FBI. The visit was kept in secrecy, and few details apart from a few photos were released in public. Justifying the trip was the badly needed PR capital, the new General Prosecutor designate Geshev added to fight off protests in Sofia against his appointment. While in the US capital, he is believed to have pledged allegiance to the Euro-Atlantic value set and promised to balance off Tzatzarov pro-Russian tilt.
Nikolay Malinov’s revelations upon his return from Moscow, and most importantly, the advice he has received from President Putin himself is the ultimate proof of the existence of an underlying double bottom policy line of Bulgarian PM. Putin’s specific advice – “patience, the Bulgarian authorities are under tremendous pressure.”
Based on my professional experience, I had deduced some time ago that Vladimir Putin is well-tuned in the latest events, including the hidden agenda behind the trip of the General Prosecutor. Such an unprecedented level of coordination usually stems from direct communication lines and shared plans.
Which explains why Moscow has held back its gunfire on Borisov’s and the Bulgarian GP’s moves against the top Russophile and why Vladimir Putin decided to compensate him with a personal reception, warning against further action by the Bulgarian authorities.
We are yet to see how the Bulgarian authorities will respond to Moscow’s arrogance, declaring Mr. Malinov, a Russian state asset, and warning a retaliatory action if charges are brought against him. Now that he has received the Order of Friendship, the Kremlin will interpret any punitive action as anti-Russian, anti-Putin.
The General Prosecutor has shown double standards in standing idle while Nikolay Malinov flies to Moscow while denying Jock Polfreeman the right to leave the country, despite a court order. He has also imposed a ban of a prominent government critic – the leader of Boetz NGO Georgi Georgiev to leave the country, as donor to his wife in a life-saving transplant.
Bulgarians learned a lesson these days – those who are under the protection of the Russian tsar are “more equal” than the rest – the best-marketing and promotion tool, expanding the Russophile base in Bulgaria. After all, Mr. Malinov is confident that spying for a ‘friendly’ country is not a crime, and the government’s silence comes only to prove he is right.
One can hardly think of a more direct assault on Bulgaria’s sovereignty. It took half a day of the Bulgarian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the notorious Deputy Prime Minister to engage in a hard talk in response to an ill translated phrase in an interview of the French President, arbitrarily interpreted as an offense to the Bulgarian people.
It certainly takes longer for them to make up their minds on how, if at all, to respond to the challenge of President Putin.