It was only when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy landed in Sofia on July 6 that he confirmed that his one-day visit would include a meeting with Bulgarian President Roumen Radev, the head of state who opposes the pro-Western government’s policy on support, including arms, for Ukraine.
When the two men – the Bulgarian head of state, a former fighter pilot who has never seen combat, and the Ukrainian head of state, formerly a television personality who now repeatedly shows his personal courage, by among other things, visiting the front lines – the atmosphere was predictably tense.
Zelenskyy arrived in Bulgaria at the invitation of the Nikolai Denkov government that took office a month ago – not at the invitation of his counterpart Radev.
The Ukrainian President reacted sharply when Radev used the word “conflict”, avoiding using the word war, in respect of Russia’s war on Zelenskyy’s country: “This is not a conflict, but a war,” Zelenskyy said.
In Radev’s opening remarks, he said that he did not accept the provision of ammunition by Bulgaria to Ukraine, especially from Bulgaria’s reserves.
“Because I, as President and Commander-in-Chief, have my responsibilities. The security environment is alarming enough in our region as well, and even more alarming for all of us is that the conflict is expanding its spatial scope, acquiring new dimensions,” Radev said.
“The fighting became more and more fierce, more and more people died, including Bulgarians from the large Bulgarian community in Ukraine. This is a sensitive topic, as is what is happening at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. And with every passing day, the risk to security and peace in Europe grows.”
According to Radev, “the conflict is turning into a war of attrition, a global economic clash that affects the economy of all European countries.”
“I continue to maintain that there is no military solution to this conflict, and the provision of more and more weapons will hardly lead to such a solution. And it is important to pay attention to consistent efforts for de-escalation, for a cease-fire, for seeking peaceful solutions through diplomacy,” he said.
Sternly and not without emotion, Zelenskyy challenged Radev: “You said you don’t support the supply of munitions, as commander-in-chief, so as not to weaken your army. Or is it that you don’t support the strengthening of Ukraine? Those are different things”.
“Your army and everything you have will be insufficient to fight Russia if its comes here,” the Ukrainian President said.
“It is not because you have a weak army, it is powerful, your people are good. A powerful army means above all people. But it would not be enough to fight against a country of 160 million people.”
Zelenskyy told Radev: “It is your right to express this position, but Ukrainians must defend themselves so that the war does not come to Bulgaria, Poland or elsewhere.
Again, he challenged Radev: “If, God forbid, a tragedy happens and you are in my place, and if you are not helped with weapons by people who share your values, what will you do?”
“You will say: ‘Putin, take Bulgarian territories?’ No, I am sure that you will not do that and allow a compromise with the sovereignty of your country,” Zelenskyy said.
“It is your right not to support aid to Ukraine, but I would like you to understand. I am convinced that one day we will be members of the EU and I am convinced that Ukraine and Europe must have common values. Because Russia wants to disband Nato and the EU, that’s their goal, you know? You see, he wants to destroy us, and we want to live instead. That’s it!”
Radev said that he had used the word “war” several times – which in fact he did last year, in connection at the time with rising inflation. Soon after the exchange with Zelenskyy, Radev said that there was something else he wanted to discuss with his counterpart, and tersely invited the media to leave the meeting, which up to that point had been broadcast live.
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