SOFIA, March 28 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's centre-right GERB party led by former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov has widened its opinion poll lead over the ruling Socialists less than two months before European elections.
The poll by Alpha Research released on Friday showed support for the main opposition GERB party rose to 17.5 percent from 15.2 percent the previous month.
The previous GERB government fell in February 2013 amid protests over high utility bills and corruption.
Backing for the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) edged up to 15.2 percent in March from 15.1 percent in February, the poll of 1,010 Bulgarians taken from March 20 to 24 showed.
But Alpha Research said the BSP's seemingly contradictory statements on Russia's intervention in Crimea could dent its chances in an election seen as a key test of the government's long-term survival.
Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007 and has pushed closer integration with the bloc. But it is almost entirely at the mercy of Russian energy supplies - forcing it to walk a diplomatic tightrope. It has so far refused to support a possible widening of sanctions against its former Cold War ally.
For their part, the Socialists have condemned Russia's actions on the one hand, but on the other hand criticised Bulgaria's involvement in EU sanctions.
The Socialists risk losing votes among their core supporters, the majority of whom are pro-Russian and oppose any sanctions on Russia, one of Bulgaria's largest trading partners outside the European Union, Alpha Research said.
Support for the ethnic Turkish MRF party, which is part of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski's minority coalition, was 6.5 percent. Backing for the newly formed Bulgaria without Censorship party and its ally, the nationalist party VMRO, stood at 5.2 percent.
PARTY Alpha Alpha Gallup Gallup
Research Research When poll conducted March Feb March Feb GERB 17.5 16.9 20.7 17.7 Socialist party (BSP) 15.2 15.1 19.5 18.9 Movement for Rights and 6.5 6.9 6.0 6.7 Freedom (MRF) Bulgaria without 5.2 5.5 5.0 6.1 Censorship/VMRO Reformist Bloc 5.1 5.0 3.1 4.6
Alternative for Bulgarian 4.0 6.1 3.2 6.0 Revival (ABV)
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Hugh Lawson)