At EU summit, Bulgarian president calls for peace in Ukraine
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev made comments contradicting most of his peers at an EU summit on Thursday (9 February), as he called for peace in Ukraine at a time when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was due in Brussels to ask for more weapons to free the territories occupied by Russia.
Radev, who represents Bulgaria at EU summits while the country does not have a regular government, has opposed sending weapons to Ukraine, although the previous Bulgarian parliament managed to pass such a decision last November. He has argued that sending weapons to Ukraine equals “putting out fire with gasoline”.
Speaking at the doorstep of the EU Council meeting in Brussels, where Ukraine’s head of state is expected as a special guest, Radev said:
“It is time, one year after the start of this bloody war, to move the focus mostly on measures to stop it, and for resuming all diplomatic efforts in search of a peaceful solution.”
He said Bulgaria would continue to support the people of Ukraine in their country, “to the extent of our possibilities”, to live through the critical winter months. Bulgaria, he added, will continue to help Ukrainian refugees in the country “according to its abilities”.
“But I will call on the EU to use all its force and all its instruments so that we could turn the debate toward stopping the warfare and diplomatic efforts for peace”, he added.
Asked about a possible new wave of sanctions which might include the Russian civil nuclear sector, he said:
“Bulgaria cannot accept sanctions on the nuclear energy sector, because those would directly impact our nuclear energy. This is a no-go. We are considering all possible areas where [further sanctions] are possible. But where are interests are at stake, as in nuclear energy, we follow the issues very closely.”
Asked if Bulgaria would veto sanctions in the area of nuclear energy, he said:
“If necessary, we will impose our veto, yes.”
Replying to the question of whether the EU would call on its member states to send more weapons to Ukraine, he said Bulgaria had already taken such a decision, referring to the November parliamentary vote.
He voiced hope, however, that “the government will take measures so this will not happen again”.
The current government is a caretaker cabinet appointed by him, and there is no parliament until the 2 April snap general elections.
“This is a bloody war, and it’s less and less often that we hear appeals for peace. We only hear the voice of the weapons, we only hear appeals for victory, although nobody can give the definition of what victory means”, Radev added.
Asked about migration, one of the three official topics of the summit, along with Ukraine and the economy, Radev said this phenomenon “threatens the democratic foundations of our union”.
He said Bulgaria, whose bid to join the EU’s passport-free Schengen area was blocked by Austria on the grounds that it was not ready to adequately protect the European borders, had invested a lot in terms of border fences, technical systems for border control, and manpower.
“The EU values this contribution. But our resources are insufficient. This is why, over the last months, we have conducted an active diplomatic activity at all levels, for more support, to the benefit not only of Bulgaria but all the countries on the first line.”
Asked about the recent tensions between Sofia and Skopje following the beating of the secretary of the Bulgarian cultural club in Ohrid, he said he would raise the issue, although enlargement is not a topic of this summit.
“Today I will raise the issue of the rising aggression and escalating anti-Bulgarian campaign in the Republic of North Macedonia, which already leads to hate crimes”, Radev said.
“We are faced with a contradiction between the declared ambitions of the Republic of North Macedonia, its commitment to abide by democratic norms, and the reality in which the Bulgarians in Macedonia live”, he said, calling on the European Commission to monitor the situation of Bulgarians in North Macedonia.
Asked if Bulgaria would again veto North Macedonia’s EU accession process, he said:
“Right now we are in a situation of veto.”
Officially, Sofia has lifted its veto but Skopje will only be able to start accession negotiations after it adds Bulgarians among the minorities listed in its constitution.