Bulgaria, a Small but Powerful UN Voice

U.S. President George W. Bush welcomes Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg (L) to the Oval Office February 25, 2003. Bush on Tuesday emphasized his intention to bypass the United Nations and attack Iraq if necessary, saying approval of a new U.N. resolution was not essential and only Iraqi disarmament could avert war. Bulgaria is considered one of the three sure votes the United States has on the Security Council in addition to its own. Saxe-Coburg said afterward he still hoped the issue could be settled within the United Nations.

Eric Draper / The White House / Handout / Reuters

With a war to disarm Iraq on hold for UN Security Council votes, countries that may not have been seen as important before now take center stage in a powerful tug-of-war for votes. Bulgaria, once an ally of the U.S.’s Cold War enemy, is now a friend who must make an important decision to forcefully defuse the Weapons of Mass Destruction threat posed by Iraq and attached terrorists while being tugged by nations arguing the wait and see approach.

Russia has been very good friends with Bulgaria since the Russian army saved the country from the Turks during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. And at one point during the Cold War, Bulgaria proposed to joined the Soviet Union. However, with the world changed years later, Bulgaria regards both Russia and the U.S. as friends, and it has shown this over the past few days.

Last Tuesday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, who was crowned in Bulgaria as King Simeon II in his childhood and is the brother of Princess Maria Louisa, met with President George W. Bush at the White House. Bulgaria is well known for its leadership in defying Hitler in order to protect its Jewish citizens. With the focus on world security again, Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg Gotha is faced with a somewhat similar dilemma that his father King Boris III faced: hope that the problem will just go away or to take a stand. (Read how King Boris III paid with his life after standing against Hitler).

The two leaders of this generation spoke at length on the issue and PM Saxe-Coburg Gotha has gone home to consider his position that is believed to lean strongly in favor of the new U.S.-U.K.-Spain UN draft resolution. Already, Bulgaria has granted U.S. requests for use of its airspace and the stationing of refueling aircraft in the event of an attack on Iraq.

A week after meeting with President Bush, Russia’s President Putin arrived in Bulgaria. Along with Putin came Simeon’s second cousin, Prince Dimitri Romanoff, heir of Russia’s last royal family (Their grandmothers were sisters.). During his time with Saxe-Coburg Gotha on Sunday, Putin presented a gift from Russia’s Foreign Ministry archives; documents that refer to Simeon’s family history. It has been reported by the Bulgarian press that the gift was of substantial value to the Prime Minister.

During a news conference this week Putin restated Russia’s opposition to military action against Iraq. “We in Russia are convinced that the Iraq crisis can and must be resolved through peaceful means," Putin stated. "It must be said here that the Russian and Bulgarian positions on Iraq do not fully coincide."

Despite the apparent disagreement between the two leaders, trade between both their countries has been and still is very important. In 2002 the mutual Russian-Bulgarian trade turnover was $1.4 billion. And Baghdad owes the nation of Bulgaria over $1 billion dollars.