NATO Member Bulgaria Sits Out Race to Ship Weapons to Ukraine
(Bloomberg) -- As pressure mounts on European nations to dispatch heavy weaponry to Ukraine, a NATO member state on the military alliance’s eastern frontier has remained on the sidelines.
Bulgaria, despite being a notable producer of Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition, has so far limited its contribution to Ukraine’s defense to humanitarian aid, helmets and bullet-proof vests. A member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 2004, Bulgaria also has a long history of ties with Moscow that’s making the prospect of delivering weapons difficult.
Now Ukraine is calling out the Black Sea nation. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, on a three-day visit to the capital Sofia, said he still doesn’t have an answer from the Bulgarian government on providing military aid -- and signaled he’d stay until he hears of a “clear decision.”
“Bullet-proof vests, technical assistance, all this is very important, but guys, I mean, let’s be serious -- if you have a helmet and a bullet-proof vest but you don’t have a gun in your hands, you’re doomed,” Kuleba told reporters on Thursday. “This half-measure is nice politically, but basically the message is -- we want you to die protected.”
While the German government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz has born the brunt of criticism among European allies for not doing enough to ensure Ukraine can defend itself against the Russian invasion, other European Union member states have also dragged their feet. Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest member, is one of them.
The stalemate lies with the fractious governing coalition under Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, whose four-party alliance ended a protracted political crisis when it took over last year, but has struggled to agree on key issues.
One party, the pro-Russian Socialists, has repeatedly warned it’ll bolt from the coalition if military equipment is shipped to Ukraine, while another, the center-right Democratic Bulgaria, said Thursday it’ll do the same if Bulgaria refuses to do so. After a parliamentary debate on the issue has faced delays, the coalition is expected to discuss the issue next week.
Petkov, who has said Bulgaria is “too close to the conflict” to send weapons, pledged to seek dialog within the coalition. He’s also cited the need to protect two Bulgarian vessels trapped in the war zone -- one “in Russian hands,” the other in the Ukrainian-controlled port of Chornomorsk.
“It is in Ukraine’s best interest to have a stable Bulgaria,” he wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday.
But Kuleba urged the government to remain “on the right side of history.”
“Life is difficult, sometimes you have to make a choice,” he told reporters. “You cannot be in between, you cannot come up with endless arguments, you have to take a side.”
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