Bulgaria’s President and Commander-in-Chief absent from Nato meeting in Sofia

Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia was the venue for the Nato Parliamentary Assembly Spring Session from May 25 to 27, with a notable absentee – the country’s President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Roumen Radev.

Radev’s policy of opposing the supply of military equipment to Ukraine runs counter to the policy of the now-former Petkov and Denkov governments, the stated policy of the current Glavchev caretaker cabinet, and the policies of Parliament’s three largest groups – GERB-UDF, We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

On May 25, as proceedings of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly got underway in Bulgaria, Radev went to Budapest and held talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has said that Hungary would opt out of any Nato operations supporting Ukraine.

Radev and Hungarian President Tamás Sulyok declared themselves to be against the escalation of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, as well as against the sending of troops from Nato member states to the territory of Ukraine, as well as more weapons.

On May 26, Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry issued a statement saying that Bulgaria will not participate in any way with military personnel on the territory of Ukraine.

“Only the National Assembly can take a decision on the participation of Bulgarian troops in operations outside the territory of our country. Such a proposal was never on the agenda,” the Defence Ministry said.

“We remind you that in compliance with a decision of the National Assembly, our country has applied for participation in the EU training mission to assist Ukraine. The training of personnel takes place on the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Republic of Poland and other EU member states.

“Within the framework of this mission, it is planned to train combat medics in Bulgaria – up to 60 people in one year,” the ministry said.

The same day, caretaker Defence Minister Atanas Zapryanov said that Nato had no intention of embarking on military action against Russia.

While his diary for May 26 was blank, on May 27 – the day that the Nato Parliamentary Assembly approved a declaration saying that Nato Allies must accelerate deliveries of the crucial weapons that Ukraine needs to defeat Russia’s war of aggression and should lift restrictions that prohibit their use against military targets inside Russia – Radev went on a “working visit” to Switzerland.

On May 27, addressing a joint news conference with Bulgaria’s caretaker Prime Minister Dimitar Glavchev, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Self-defence is enshrined in the UN Charter, self-defence is enshrined in international law. So Ukraine has the right to defend themselves against Russian aggression.

“We have the right as Nato Allies to help Ukraine uphold the right of self-defence. And that’s exactly what Nato Allies have done by providing military support to Ukraine. That does not make Nato or Nato Allies party to the conflict. We provide Ukraine with support, but we don’t send in Nato troops, Nato capabilities to take part in the conflict, neither on land or in the airspace over Ukraine”.

Radev, speaking to reporters in Switzerland on the afternoon of May 27, said that “all Nato member states are involved in the war in Ukraine in one way or another – by providing intelligence, targeting, weapons, ammunition, training, and there are already European leaders who are openly talking about this presence”.

Responding to Glavchev’s assurance that the topic of sending Bulgarian military personnel never has been on the agenda and is not now, Radev said: “It doesn’t matter if our National Assembly will make a decision [on sending military personnel] if another country provokes a direct confrontation with Russia. We are a member of Nato, aren’t we, there is Article 5?”

Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty provides that if a Nato Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.

In Bern, Radev met the President of the Swiss Confederation, Viola Amherd. He congratulated Amherd on the initiative to organise an international conference to seek the formula for peace in Ukraine. However, he expressed skepticism about the success of this venture in the absence of Russia.

Bulgarian National Television reported Radev as saying that he had not avoided a meeting with Stoltenberg in Sofia.

His visits to Hungary and Switzerland were agreed “long before” it became clear that the Nato Parliamentary Assembly would meet in Sofia, the report quoted him as saying.

Radev said that he hoped to continue his constructive talks with Stoltenberg at the upcoming Nato summit in Washington.

Todor Tagarev, who was Defence Minister in the June 2023-March 2024 Denkov government, told Nova Televizia on May 27 that caretaker Prime Minister Glavchev, not Radev, should represent Bulgaria at Nato’s Washington Summit.

“Dimitar Glavchev continues Nikolai Denkov’s foreign policy – Euro-Atlantic. I am not sure that Roumen Radev would fully reflect this position,” Tagarev said.

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