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Bulgarian DefMin: No one can guarantee security in Black Sea region without Bulgaria and Romania

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No one can guarantee security in the Black Sea region without Bulgaria and Romania, the Bulgarian Defence Minister Dragomir Zakov said in an interview with AGERPRES.

He refers, in the interview for AGERPRES, to the fact that the Parliament in Sofia will vote next week on the possible delivery of weapons by Bulgaria to Ukraine.

"The issue of military assistance is of great public interest. I understand perfectly, but at the same time, as Minister of Defense, I have always advocated a cautious approach to this issue in the public debate," Zakov says.

AGERPRES: Mr. Minister, today (Friday, ed. n.) you had a joint press conference in Bucharest with your Romanian counterpart, and the Romanian Minister of Defense said that, starting today or from this period, the relationship between the Bulgarian and the Romanian armies enters a new stage. What is this new stage and how is it influenced by the war in Ukraine?

Dragomir Zakov: Right, first of all let me say that we have enjoyed excellent relationship with Romania not only at the level of Defence ministers, at the level of the Chief of the Defence, but at the level of the Government. In the face of the current situation in Ukraine, let me say we do not have only common threats and common challenges, but we share the same destiny with Romania, and in this case as allies, not only neighbours. But we have agreed with Mr. Dincu (Romanian Minister of National Defence, ed. n.) to have regular meetings in the next months and in the next years. And we recommend this to our successors, in the future. This is something that we need, with certainty. Like I said, we share a common destiny because I think, I believe in this: nobody can guarantee the security and stability in the Black Sea region without Bulgaria and Romania.

AGERPRES: On Thursday, the Bulgarian Prime Minister said that the Parliament in Sofia will approve the delivery of weapons to Ukraine from May 4th. In media reports, Bulgaria seemed hesitant when it came to delivering arms to Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Foreign Minister said so last week in Sofia. Can you explain this process and how hard it was to come to the current conclusion and get over the differences of opinion?

Dragomir Zakov: I have to say first that Bulgaria has given assistance to Ukraine, and yesterday (Thursday, ed. n.) President Zelensky has welcomed our Premier, and I was part of the delegation in Kyiv. President Zelensky said that he was grateful to Bulgaria for the assistance received. Of course, the matter of the military assistance is a question of great interest publicly. I could understand this, but at the same time as Minister of Defence I have always advocated for a very careful approach of this issue and today Minister Dincu emphasized the same thing. I think it is the right approach. Of course, in Bulgaria, this is a very sensitive issue for many reasons, but also we have to be fully aware of the propaganda, the disinformation, the attempts to confuse people. This is what we are talking about. And of course it is the responsibility of all of us, of the politicians, experts. Because I consider myself not only a politician, but more of an expert acting in the politics. But we have to make sure that the people fully understand what's behind this kind of decision, from different kind of expectations: to supply a system, what does it mean, why is it important. On the other side, what are the risks and we have to understand the risks so that we could manage them. That's why the discussion we will have in the Parliament, hopefully on the 4th of May is very essential, because we talk about the national representatives in the Parliament to discuss publicly this issue and to make a decision. Then it is up to the Government to implement the decision and so everything that is needed from me, as Minister of Defence, or from my structures will be carried out in accordance with the Parliament's decision.

AGERPRES: Minister Kuleba (Ukrainian Foreign Minister, ed. n.) was quoted as saying in Sofia that "anyone who does not deliver weapons to Ukraine supports Russian aggression in his country." How did you perceive that as a politician, as Minister of Defense?

Dragomir Zakov: Even as a diplomat, because I'm also a diplomat, deep in my soul. (...) I think that Minister Kuleba is absolutely right. And, second thought, yesterday President Zelensky said that the countries should provide assistance to Ukraine in accordance with their possibilities. So, that's something important. He said, if I'm not wrong, that if a country has 1,000 or 100 military jets and cannot provide some, this is wrong. But, if you don't have such jets and you provide other kind of assistance to Ukraine, this is good. That's why I said that there are many ways to assist. I think Ukraine is in need of so many things. Don't forget that sooner or later, I hope it will be sooner than later, it will be another phase when it will have to support Ukraine to reconcile and reconstruct. And yesterday during the visit of the Prime Minister these things were talked and I also have to say that we accepted the proposal by President Zelensky to help Ukraine to repair the heavy armed vehicles. Our industry has this capacity.

AGERPRES: Because you were Bulgaria's Representative to NATO, there has been a lot of discussion about the role of the Eastern Flank and the Black Sea region. Did you perceive that the war in Ukraine hastened things up? Did you feel that, to an extent, NATO officials were late in realising the importance of the Black Sea region and now they have realised this importance?

Dragomir Zakov: My personal assessment is that the entire Western world was a bit late to understand to what was going on in Ukraine for so many years. But I think that Bulgaria and Romania were the two allies advocating for a greater involvement of NATO for so many years. In the end, we were right. I think that the current circumstances in Ukraine clearly show that the Black Sea region is an important region for the Euroatlantic security and we have to be absolutely involved to strengthen this security, all of us, not only Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, these three allied countries, but also NATO as a whole and I'm sure that will be the shared vision of the allies at the June Summit.

You also know that yesterday I was part of the Prime Minister's visit to Kyiv and believe me, when you see the pictures, live, apart from what we see on television, the reality on the ground, the civilian buildings vanished by the aggressors... we cannot believe that this could be real at all. When we say that this invasion, this war is unprovoked, that it is brutal, that it is unjustified - but I saw that. And now I think this is the way out to assist Ukraine, to try to stop this war as soon as possible, and manage to convince also Russia to stop this war. I don't believe that this decision lies only on one person in Russia. This is the responsibility of the entire nation.

AGERPRES: In the context of the war in Ukraine, which is on NATO's border, there are discussions in the countries on the Eastern Flank about a permanent military presence. What is Bulgaria's vision for this?

Dragomir Zakov: There are the decisions of setting up the Battle Groups on the Eastern Flank and Bulgaria is one of the host nations of this kind of Battle Groups. We are in the course of setting up this Battle Group in Bulgaria. We have already troops from the United States, a Stryker company, we're expecting the UK to come and strengthen this Battle Group and we are also working with Italy which will become most probably the framework-nation of the Battle Group. But here I have also to say that we work very closely with Romania also on this kind of measures, not only new ones, under the current circumstances, but also of implementing the previous decisions from the Wales summit, the Warsaw summit, from the tailored Forward Presence. Bulgaria has contributed, dispatched a company to the Multinational Brigade South-East in Romania. In the future, most probably the Battle Group when it evolves further could be linked to the Multinational Division South which is also in Romania, and Bulgaria has the Deputy Commander. So, as I said, we share the same destiny, the same values, the same threats, it's inevitable to work together, Romania and Bulgaria.

AGERPRES: It was also pointed out that, as far as the Eastern Flank is concerned, there is a difference between the north and south of the Flank, namely the southern part was to an extent overlooked. Do you think that, in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, the southern part will be more visible and strengthened?

Dragomir Zakov: My personal view is that - my personal, but also my professional view - I might had that in the NATO, in my previous capacity as an ambassador - I think this kind of separation of North and East is more optical rather than practical, because you cannot separate the measures of the Eastern Flank, this is not possible. If you separate them, they would not be that effective. And now you know that the decision to settle the Battle Groups speaks about Battle Groups on the entire Eastern Flank, is not only the Central Europe, it's all of the Eastern Flank, so, now with the war in Ukraine it's more important to have a consolidated approach on the entire Eastern Flank.

AGERPRES: Recently, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry recommended that its citizens leave the Republic of Moldova as soon as possible, probably because of the events in Transnistria. How does Bulgaria perceive the situation there? Is it a real danger, it is only rhetoric, is it recommended that this rhetoric be encouraged?

Dragomir Zakov: This is a decision made by the Foreign Ministry colleagues based on the analysis of the current risks for the Bulgarian citizens and since we have quite an important community there, a Bulgarian-speaking community I think this is a preventive measure in order to avoid further difficulties in case the situation worsens. Of course, you know perfectly, the situation in Transnistria is not that much calm and I look at these measures more as preventive measures other than something else.

AGERPRES: But, militarily speaking, is Transnistria a "powder keg"?

Dragomir Zakov: Some people say in the Balkans is the same, so, yes, I think the entire region is in difficulty now. But, yes, the risk for Transnistria and Moldova, for the statehood of Moldova is present, of course, with the hostilities in Ukraine. But I think the international community should do everything possible to avoid this kind of scenarios, the spillover effect to Transnistria, because this is not only in Transnistria, is not only in Moldova. The spillover could affect the Balkans. And then we could be the more in trouble. These things lead to the same conclusion that we should work together, as close as possible, at each and every level and I'm absolutely glad that my visit today coincided to the visit of the Prime Minister who's leading a large governmental delegation to talk to Romanian colleagues on many important issues, on many important domains.

AGERPRES: Because you are a diplomat, you are the Minister of Defense, are there chances, in the context of the war next to us, that there will be a balance between diplomacy and defense, or diplomacy and the voice of arms?

Dragomir Zakov: I have to believe that diplomacy is still an option. The only question is when exactly is going to be a workable option. But we are all aware that to dance a tango you need two, at least. So, this is not only the Western world, this is not only Ukraine that are trying such diplomatic efforts. I think that now it's important to Russia to cease hostilities immediately and to go back to the diplomatic option.

AGERPRES: But in these specific circumstances, does diplomacy work?

Dragomir Zakov: As I said, diplomacy always works, but it depends on all the sides, not only one. It's not only one side.

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