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Bulgarian finance chief says Russia is trying to block the path to the euro

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(Bloomberg) — Bulgaria has accused Russia of strengthening Eurosceptic sentiment in an effort to block the country’s deeper integration into the European Union and adoption of the bloc’s single currency.

Fake news sites, coordinated attacks and political parties with “very close ties to Russia” are determined to undermine confidence in the euro in a campaign that peaked over the summer, Finance Minister Assen Vassilev said in an interview on Wednesday. He added that the country would stick to its currency exchange plan by 2025.

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“We saw the fake news, we saw the Russian propaganda,” Vassilev said. “Russia would attempt to prevent further European integration in general and would attempt to destabilize any efforts in this direction by any country. »

The government of the EU’s poorest member wants to adopt the euro to improve living standards and deepen its role in the bloc’s decision-making, after meeting most formal requirements for years. But Russia’s war in Ukraine and Europe’s energy crisis have helped trigger a rise in inflation – temporarily pushing it away from meeting entry criteria – and fueled fears that the single currency could push the costs.

The euro is also the target of pro-Russian, populist and far-right parties, which are gaining support across Eastern Europe.

The pro-Russian Renaissance party, which supports the Kremlin’s arguments and wants the Balkan state to leave NATO, launched a campaign this year against the adoption of this text and collected hundreds of thousands of signatures in favor of a referendum on the subject, which Parliament rejected. Revival has also organized anti-euro protests, during which party supporters wave Russian flags and chant anti-Western slogans.

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Last week, Bulgaria expelled a Russian priest and two Belarusian priests suspected of espionage, temporarily closing the Russian church in Sofia. In response, the Bulgarian ambassador in Moscow was summoned. The move follows the unprecedented expulsion of 70 diplomats last year by the previous government in which Vassilev was finance minister. Russia has denied trying to influence Bulgarian affairs.

Numerous studies have shown that Bulgaria is one of the EU members most vulnerable to Moscow’s influence, a situation underpinned by long-standing cultural and economic ties between the two countries.

However, the Bulgarian lev is already linked to the euro within the framework of a currency board and monetary policy closely follows that set by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

And the mood is changing, according to Vassilev. Inflation is slowing and his government, which took office in June, is supported by a broad pro-euro coalition of former rivals who have united to end a years-long political crisis.

“Even though there is probably more pro-Russian sentiment and a lot more Russian propaganda here, Bulgarians are sensible enough to know where their interest lies,” he said. “People are starting to see the benefits of not only being linked to the euro through the currency board that we have, but actually having the euro.”

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