Former Bulgarian PM Blasts Powerful Oligarch Peevski As The Country’s ‘Biggest Evil’


SOFIA — Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov is clear on who was to blame for the recent collapse of his government: the U.S.-sanctioned oligarch Delyan Peevski.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, Denkov, who led the country under the reformist anti-corruption alliance of We Continue The Change and Democratic Bulgaria (CCDB), said Peevski, a powerful behind-the-scenes power broker, was the “biggest evil in Bulgaria.”

Bulgaria faces snap general elections on June 9, its sixth such poll since April 2021, amid persistent political turmoil.

The latest election was called by President Rumen Radev on April 9 after the populist There Is Such A People (ITN) became the third party to decline a mandate to form a government.

Before that, the center-right GERB and its former coalition partner, CCDB, both said they had been unable to form a new cabinet.

Following elections in April 2023, Bulgaria had a joint government supported by the reformist CCDB and GERB. They had agreed on an 18-month government with a rotation of prime ministers — first, Denkov from CCDB, and after nine months, Maria Gabriel from GERB.

Denkov stepped down on March 5 to let GERB lead the government for the following nine months, as agreed. But Gabriel, a former EU innovation commissioner and deputy prime minister, failed to form a government. On March 27, Denkov also rejected Radev’s invitation to try to put together a cabinet.

The fresh poll is set to coincide with elections for Bulgaria’s members of the European Parliament. Bulgaria is the poorest of the 27 members of the EU and has been wrestling with widespread corruption. The Balkan country has been grappling with political instability since major anti-corruption protests in 2020.

‘At The First Meetings, He Invited Peevski’

In his interview with RFE/RL, Denkov blamed Peevski, leader of the liberal Movement For Rights And Freedoms (DPS), for exerting pressure on GERB and its leader, Boyko Borisov, to derail coalition talks. The DPS has traditionally represented Bulgarian Turks and other Muslim communities in the country.

“I saw it with my own eyes. From the very beginning, when we had meetings with Borisov…at the very first meetings, he invited Peevski. We go to the meeting, and Peevski is sitting next to Borisov. And in fact, during those months, 80 percent of the time, the conversation was with Peevski, not with Borisov,” Denkov recounted.

Delyan Peevski has been sanctioned by the United States.
Delyan Peevski has been sanctioned by the United States.

“And that was not part of the agreement. Our agreement with GERB was that we were in a governing coalition with them. Peevski should have appeared where two-thirds [of the votes in the parliament] were needed to secure the constitutional changes. The fact that it turned out that Peevski coopted the leadership of GERB was a surprise for us,” he added.

According to Denkov, Peevski, as well as Borisov, himself a former Bulgarian prime minister from 2009 to 2021, were intent on derailing reform efforts in Bulgaria, long cited as one of the EU’s most corrupt countries.

“Peevski and Borisov were afraid of the reforms that had to be implemented. At one point, they realized that we were doing well so far, but they were not ready to continue with what we had agreed on as a governing program and as reforms that had to happen in Bulgaria,” Denkov told RFE/RL.

“Maybe in the first nine months they didn’t realize exactly how far we were willing to go with these changes,” Denkov continued. “When they realized that, in fact, we really want to change Bulgaria, which means not only changing the laws on paper but also starting to implement them, they decided that they should apply the handbrake and push us into the blind rut again.”

Borisov has long been dogged by accusations of corruption, although he has refuted all such charges. In 2022, he was briefly detained by Bulgarian police as part of an operation connected to investigations led by the EU’s prosecutor’s office.

In 2020, protesters demanded the resignation of Borisov, his government, and the country’s chief prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, amid monthslong anti-corruption protests in Sofia and elsewhere in Bulgaria.

Borisov tried to balance close ties with the EU and NATO, both of which Bulgaria belongs to, while maintaining friendly relations with the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, particularly in the energy sector.

In March, hackers leaked documents that appear to show how the Kremlin had circumvented public procurement rules in Bulgaria to expand the TurkStream gas pipeline, bypassing Ukraine, in order to provide Russian gas to Serbia and Hungary. According to a report on the Bulgarian news site Kapital, the pipeline’s construction had been pre-agreed under the Borisov government.

“There is no doubt that the actions surrounding TurkStream were joint between Borisov and Peevski,” Denkov told RFE/RL. “Many things connect them. And some of these things are related to consideration of Russia’s interests, in some cases to the detriment of Bulgarian interests.”

According to Denkov, Peevski was the “biggest evil in Bulgaria” because of his alleged efforts to steer Bulgaria away from a democratic path.

“If Borisov in his first and second governments was relatively careful, he took into account what public opinion was and what other political partners said. In the third government — and we see this even now — after the collapse of the government, we see extremely aggressive rhetoric and actions without much regard for what these politicians think…. This is Peevski’s style. This is what scares me, because this style could very easily lead us into a soft dictatorship at best, if not worse,” Denkov warned.

In 2013, Peevski’s appointment as head of Bulgaria’s counterintelligence agency sparked mass protests over fears that the move was a dangerous alliance of politics and big business.

The protests, which lasted for more than a year, were effective. Peevski ended up stepping down from Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security, and the government of then-Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski resigned.

Back in 2013, Peevski was known as a secretive oligarch who controlled several newspapers and a significant share of print media distribution networks. He had been a lawmaker with the DPS since 2009 but quickly earned a reputation for rarely attending parliament.

Earlier this year, Peevski was elected co-president of DPS, the first ethnic Bulgarian to lead the party.

Source: RFERL