Bulgarian leaders speak on ‘Black Sea fleet’ plan, tensions with Turkey

Bulgaria’s President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister, in a joint briefing on June 16, dismissed talk of taking part in a joint permanent Black Sea fleet with Romania and Turkey – as Ankara was reported to have suspended its refugee readmission agreement with Sofia over Bulgarian opposition to the Black Sea fleet idea.

Prime Minister Boiko Borissov held urgent talks with President Rossen Plevneliev and Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev on June 16, after underlining that he strongly opposed the idea of Bulgaria joining a Black Sea fleet – an idea pushed by Bucharest and Ankara – in a move against Russia.

Bulgarian opposition was reported to have prompted Turkey to unilaterally suspend the refugee readmission agreement with Bulgaria.

Borissov told reporters on June 16 that 200 refugees that Bulgaria had tried to send back to Turkey had not been accepted. There had been no official documentation about the matter and it was being pursued through diplomatic channels, he said.

Local media reported the Turkish embassy in Sofia as denying that Ankara had unilaterally suspended the readmission agreement.

Ahead of the Borissov-Plevneliev talks, it appeared that the Prime Minister was at odds with the President, Defence Minister and Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov, all of whom were seen as backing a stepped-up Nato military presence on the alliance’s eastern flank, as a response to security concerns about Russia.

At the joint briefing, which was broadcast live, Plevneliev dismissed as rumours and speculation the claims that his Romanian counterpart Klaus Iohannis had put forward the idea of the joint Black Sea fleet at their bilateral talks on June 15.

Plevneliev said that Iohannis had not talked about flotillas or new ships.

Plevneliev pointed to the strategic documents on defence that Bulgaria had adopted and emphasised that any initiative or action would not be improvised by the government but would have to correspond to the strategic programme and plan. If “even one lev” was to be invested in defence, it would have to be approved by the Cabinet and Parliament and would have to be part of the programme, he said.

The President said that there was a programme for the development of Bulgaria’s armed forces up to the year 2020, and nothing about that programme had changed. Plevneliev added that there was a development plan for the armed forces, in which “there is an appropriate assessment of the situation regarding the risks in the Black Sea region and we stand behind this assessment”.

The priorities included the acquisition of two patrol boats, Plevneliev said, and that was no surprise, he said. He was speaking against a background of the patrol boat acquisition already having been approved as a concept by the National Assembly in recent weeks, following a proposal by the Cabinet.

On June 14, Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev, speaking after talks with his Romanian counterpart Mihnea Motoc, said that Bulgaria could deploy up to 400 military personnel on a rotational basis to take part in training and joint exercises as part of a Nato multinational brigade in Romania.

Plevneliev referred to this in his June 16 statement, saying that Bulgaria would participate in training in Romania with 400 military personnel on a rotational basis.

He went on to say that Bulgaria’s Romanian colleagues had raised the issue of a new initiative on regional co-operation in maritime defence, but he underlined that this was initiative was in the context of Nato.

Plevneliev urged the media to be responsible and not to speculate about these issues.

Ahead of the meeting, Borissov had said that the idea of Bulgaria participating in a Black Sea fleet of the kind reportedly being pushed by Turkey and Romania was beyond the limit of what he could allow.

Borissov emphasised that he did not want matters to reach the stage of a direct military confrontation with Russia in the Black Sea said.

He said that the only scenario in which Nato should be guarding Bulgaria’s sea border would be if Bulgaria was on the receiving end of a massive refugee wave.

Borissov underlined that the President and Defence Minister stood with him in opposing the idea of the type of fleet in the Black Sea being talked about, against a “flotilla against Russia”.

“I always say that we are a peaceful country. I do not want the Black Sea to become a place for military action,” Borissov said.

Bulgaria could not be more pro-Nato, Borissov said, pointing to the country’s participation in and hosting of joint exercises by the alliance and the recently-completed modernisation of a military airport.

The President and the Prime Minister issued assurances that Bulgarian foreign policy was not “against” anyone and that the country consistently sought cordial relations.

Russia, Borissov said, would not invade Bulgaria. “They have another type of action on the territory of Bulgaria, and that is primarily economic – but with missiles and tanks, I am convinced, there is no such idea”.



The Sofia Globe staff

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