Bulgarian President Roumen Radev attempted damage control on July 10 over his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy four days earlier, at which the Ukrainian leader publicly demolished Radev’s arguments about his opposition to providing military equipment to Ukraine.
The attempted defence by Radev came amid remarks to journalists in which he also attacked the ruling majority’s decision in Parliament about selling the Belene nuclear power station’s reactors to Ukraine, accused the government of serving foreign interests, and stated his backing for a referendum on postponing adoption of the euro by two decades.
On July 6, it had not been known until the last minute whether Radev, whose stated views are at odds with Bulgaria’s recently-elected pro-Western government, would meet Zelenskyy, who was in Sofia at the invitation of the Cabinet. Media reports after the talks said that the meeting had turned out disastrously for Radev. This past weekend, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova, no fan of the President, said that Zelenskyy had “humiliated” Radev.
Radev said that the Cabinet had not followed the rules of protocol in regarding to the visit by the Ukrainian head of state.
He said that the government had not coordinated the Zelenskyy visit with him, but notified him after the fact of the visit having been arranged.
“In this situation, it was easiest for me not to hold such a meeting, but this is not a good signal for Bulgaria, it is not a good signal for the 300 000 Bulgarians in Ukraine. So I hope that the Cabinet will observe the elementary rules of the protocol and future such events to be coordinated,” Radev said.
“I have always protected Bulgarian interests, not those of other countries. The question is whose interest are protected by politicians from Parliament and the government,” he said.
Using language strikingly similar to that used by minority pro-Kremlin party Vuzrazhdane, which claims that the government takes its orders from the US embassy, Radev said of the government and the ruling majority: “The question is, do they have their own opinion and position? Because they unquestioningly follow the opinion of the big countries, which in this case is good because they have a reasonable position, but in fact our rulers do not have their own opinion and position, and this is the big problem. And nationally responsible behaviour requires having your own opinion”.
On the topic of Bulgaria providing artillery shells which are approaching their expiry date to Ukraine – which the government argues is a better option than allowing the shells to expire and then having to spend vast sums to have them safely destroyed – Radev claimed that the ammunition would not be quickly replaced.
“How did the National Assembly suddenly decide to untie the government’s hands to empty the warehouses of the Bulgarian Army?” he said.
“No matter how much they convince you that they will be quickly filled, this is not true. These are processes that take years. You are not under any illusions , that we will have new armaments that will come from somewhere?” Radev said.
“There are rapid processes of replanning, of changing the criteria, so that certain armaments and munitions are exempted from being declared surplus based on new calculations. And here I call on the rulers to be very careful because it concerns our national security and they have to show responsibility.”
Radev hit out at the decision to negotiate the sale to Ukraine of the reactors from Belene, a project initiated during Bulgaria’s communist era, which uses Russian technology, which never has been completed and which has devoured billions of leva with no benefit.
“On what basis did they make this decision in one day, on the basis of which energy strategy for the development of Bulgaria, on the basis of which calculations and analyses?
This is not only about the reactors, but about fate of this project and shouldn’t they sit at the table, take out all the options for the development of our energy and then make this decision?” he said.
On the question of the referendum proposed by Vuzrazhdane that would see Bulgaria having the lev as its sole currency until 2043, Radev said that Parliament’s vote against the referendum “betrays fear, neglect and mistrust towards the Bulgarian citizens.
After they have fulfilled the legal conditions, these signatures have been collected, it is proper to hold a referendum. I see no way to re-enter the National Assembly a referendum proposal that has already been rejected.”
“It is a separate question whether this referendum should be formulated in this way. For me, 20 years is too long a period as it is formulated. But the efforts of politicians should not be directed at how to stop the referendum, but rather convince the Bulgarian citizens that joining the euro zone works for their well-being,” Radev said.
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