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Putin, Bulgarian President Tout Cultural Ties, Energy Projects

Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev (left) in Sochi on May 22.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev (left) in Sochi on May 22.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Bulgarian counterpart have hailed their common cultural ties and vowed to revive economic links between the two Black Sea nations.

At a meeting in the Russian resort city of Sochi on May 22, Putin and Rumen Radev extolled their countries' common Slavic roots and discussed pursuing a couple of major new energy projects.

"Together we are celebrating a very symbolic holiday, the 140th anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria and the victory in the Russian-Turkish war," Radev told Putin.

It was because of Russia's victory that Bulgaria appeared on the map of Europe, Radev said. "The purpose of my visit is to restore dialogue between our countries to the highest possible level," he said.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was also expected to visit Putin in Moscow in the coming days, the Russian leader said, according to a Kremlin transcript.

Russia has been pursuing closer relations with former Eastern Bloc countries that have joined the European Union, including Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia, even as Moscow's overall relations with the West have plummeted to the lowest levels since the Cold War over Russia's military intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and other matters.

Russia has also sought to leverage common cultural ties such as the Orthodox church with EU hopeful nations like Serbia as it seeks to preserve its traditional sphere of influence in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Putin described the meeting with Radev as an opportunity to boost economic ties and expressed confidence that the countries could increase bilateral trade, despite the imposition of sanctions against Russia by the EU.

Russia's Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, who attended the talks, told Russian state media afterwards that Russia is ready to consider making Bulgaria a hub for transporting Russian natural gas.

Such a project, perhaps integrated with the Turkish Stream pipeline, would need to be guaranteed by both Bulgaria and the EU, Novak said.

Turkish Stream, currently under construction, is scheduled to begin delivering Russian gas across the Black Sea to Turkey by the end of next year.

Radev said Bulgaria is reviving plans to develop its Belene nuclear power plant and is open to Russian participation in the project, despite pressure from Washington and Brussels to limit Sofia's energy dependence on Russia.

Bulgaria cancelled the 2,000 megawatt plant in 2012 after failing to find investors. Sofia had to pay more than 620 million euros to Russian state nuclear company Rosatom for cancelling the project, but also received nuclear parts for two 1,000 megawatt reactors.

As a result, the country was faced with a decision on what to do with the equipment. The Bulgarian government decided last week to ask parliament to lift a ban on developing the nuclear reactors.

Radev also said he hoped that talks for direct Russian gas deliveries to Bulgaria could be resumed.

The prime minister holds most power in Bulgaria and the president has a largely ceremonial role, but he can shape public opinion, appoint ambassadors, and veto legislation.

With reporting by dpa, Reuters, and Interfax
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