May 23, 2024

The oil terminal’s piers stretch just a few score yards into the Black Sea from the Bulgarian coast. For 25 years, the Russian crude they received fed a sprawling network of economic and political influence that helped keep Bulgaria tethered tightly to the Kremlin.

How much oil arrived at the terminal for use by a nearby Russian-owned refinery was something only the Russians knew: they controlled the piers, the meters recording the volumes delivered and the security force guarding the perimeter fences.

In recent months, however, Russia has steadily lost its grip on the Rosenets Oil Terminal, near the Black Sea port city of Burgas.

Bulgaria has taken back control of the piers and has laid plans to take over management of the refinery from its Russian owner, Lukoil, if it balks at processing non-Russian oil. In January, Bulgaria halted shipments of Russian crude.

Russia’s increasing loss of control of the facility highlights an unintended — and, for Moscow, undesirable — consequence of its invasion of Ukraine.

Even as Russia’s military battles to entrench its occupation of territory grabbed from Ukraine on the other side of the Black Sea, Moscow has suffered setbacks on previously friendly terrain in Bulgaria. Long bound to Russia by history, common Slavic roots and a shared Orthodox Christian faith, Bulgaria was once so loyal to the Kremlin it asked to be absorbed into the Soviet Union.

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