Bulgaria’s Parliament votes in new Defence Minister after Ukraine row

At the close of a debate lasting close to three hours on March 1, Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted in Dragomir Zakov, until now the country’s permanent representative to Nato, to replace Stefan Yanev as Defence Minister.

The vote was 181 in favour, nine against and with 33 abstentions.

Zakov was a last-minute replacement candidate after Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on February 28 that his We Continue the Change party’s nominee was Todor Tagarev.

Yanev was ousted from the defence portfolio after publicly straying from government policy on the war on Ukraine by Russian military forces acting on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bulgaria’s government has strongly condemned Putin’s war on Ukraine and has backed sanctions.

The last-minute change of candidate caused some degree of surprise and confusion, and apparently was the result of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, a partner in the quadripartite governing coalition, objecting to the Tagarev candidacy and reportedly threatening to quit the ruling coalition if it proceeded.

The proceedings of the special sitting of the National Assembly to vote on the change to the Cabinet was delayed because Zakov had to arrive from Brussels to be admitted to the House and, at the close of proceedings, to be sworn in.

Petkov said that Zakov had 20 years’ experience in the field of international security.

Zakov graduated in international economic relations at the University of National and World Economy, from 2004 to 2008 was a member of the Bulgarian delegation to Nato and was a member of Bulgaria’s mission to the UN. He became Bulgaria’s permanent representative to Nato in 2019.

Dragomir Zakov. Photo: Foreign Ministry

Ekaterina Zaharieva, an MP for the opposition GERB-UDF and a former foreign minister, said that Zakov was a convenient candidate for President Roumen Radev and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, though she added that she had “no doubt about (Zakov’s) geopolitical orientation”.

The debate on the change of Defence Minister largely widened into one on Putin’s war on Ukraine, which last week was condemned in a declaration by six of the seven parliamentary groups, although the BSP declined to back sanctions against Russia.

The pro-Kremlin Vuzrazhdane party – the smallest group in Bulgaria’s National Assembly, with 13 MPs in the 240-seat National Assembly – used the debate to attack Bulgaria’s membership of Nato, and called for the resignation of the entire government.

(Screenshot of Zakov from Parliament’s broadcast of the March 1 sitting)

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