In a late-night post on Facebook, Bulgarian head of state President Roumen Radev has stepped into a domestic pre-election political row about Nato and its presence in the Black Sea.
The controversy between GERB leader Boiko Borissov and Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova started after Borissov alleged that caretaker Defence Minister Stefan Yanev of agreeing to the strengthening of Nato in the Black Sea region.
The February 2017 row dates back to a June 2016 controversy when reports claimed there were plans for a Black Sea “flotilla” involving Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria.
Radev, a former air force commander who won Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential elections to become the country’s head of state and armed forces commander-in-chief, urged political parties to deal responsibility with the topic of security.
He said that with the approach of Bulgaria’s March 26 2017 early parliamentary elections, there was increased speculation about the security issue.
In recent days, “prominent politicians” had tried to problematize the joint air policing and military exercises of Nato in the Black Sea.
Radev said that the decision on joint defence of Bulgarian air space for a fee had been taken and sent to Nato in February 2016.
He said that today the initiators of this decision were trying to shift responsibility about it.
Radev, when he was air force commander, was at odds with then-defence minister Nikolai Nenchev about air policing policy of offering to pay allies for their participation in protecting Bulgaria’s skies.
Radev said that as commander-of-chief of the armed forces, “I declare that Bulgaria will not pay a lev for the joint security of our skies, despite existing financial commitments.”
He added that the planned Nato military exercises in the Black Sea had nothing to do with the idea of the so-called Black Sea fleet. Such exercises were held regularly, Radev said in his Facebook post.
Speaking on February 21, Borissov said that when he was prime minister, he had declared himself against a Black Sea “flotilla”.
He said this in response to claims by the Bulgarian Socialist Party about the position that his government had adopted to support Nato measures aimed at increasing security in the Black Sea region.
“President and commander-in-chief Roumen Radev was at Nato headquarters. If there he was told that the previous government took an incorrect decision or a new BSP one does not support these ideas during the voting a few days ago, this would not have happened,” Borissov said.
He said that the BSP lied to people with talking points against Nato, while their caretaker ministers supported Nato decisions and policies.
Borissov said, with irony, that he congratulated the BSP and what he called its caretaker cabinet that they were continuing GERB’s policy on Nato.
Bulgaria had a collective commitment to Nato and the EU, and if indeed such commitments had been undertaken, this would mean that good work had been done, he said.
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova told a news conference that Borissov and his government had allowed an increased Nato military presence in the Black Sea, but now “the hawk Borissov is trying to become a dove”.
“Bulgaria is a member of the EU and Nato and we are not calling this fact into doubt, but we are against Bulgaria and the Black Sea being used as a staging ground for hostilities,” Ninova said. Her party wanted the Black Sea region to be an area of peace and security, she said.
Ninova said that it was clear from the Defence Ministry that on June 24 2016, the then-Borissov government had adopted a position and given a mandate to a national delegation headed by then-president Rossen Plevneliev, Nenchev and then-foreign minister Daniel Mitov to support Nato measures aimed at increasing security in the Black Sea region.
She said that this had been confirmed by replies to questions in Parliament by Mitov, that the Borissov cabinet had approved framework positions for the Bulgarian delegation to the Nato Warsaw Summit, advocating a more active presence of Nato and the EU in the Black Sea, which would have a positive effect on Euro-Atlantic security.
Ninova quoted statements at parliamentary committee hearings of Mitov and Nenchev, saying that Mitov had said that the government’s principal position was continuing support for the realisation of an advanced front presence of the alliance, including an expanded Nato presence in the Black Sea.
The BSP leader said that her party had submitted a draft resolution to the National Assembly calling for the Black Sea to be a demilitarised zone but GERB had not supported the project.
In its February 21 2017 statement, the Bulgarian Defence Ministry said that it was continuing to work on the basis of agreements adopted at the Nato Warsaw Summit in July 2016.
The ministry issued the statement in response to what it called false statements about increasing Nato’s military presence in the Black Sea.
At the summit, in which Plevneliev, Nenchev and Mitov took part, it was agreed that there should be a larger number of military exercises in the Black Sea region in order to deter and prevent conflicts.
“The current caretaker government continues developing the principles of Bulgaria’s defence policy in the spirit of conventions adopted at the Nato summit in Warsaw,” the Defence Ministry statement said.