Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Kiril Petkov says his country is no longer “soft” on Russia — but acknowledges Sofia still has red lines when it comes to responding to Russian aggression.
Bulgaria has some of the deepest ties to Moscow of any country in the EU and its politicians have historically been notorious for trying to integrate more deeply into the EU and NATO, while simultaneously staying cozy with the Kremlin.
Petkov is, however, trying to chart a more unambiguously pro-Western trajectory. In a sign of this, he fired Defense Minister Stefan Yanev this week after he parroted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spin on the war in Ukraine and recommended that Bulgaria should chart a neutral course.
Sofia would no longer be sitting on the fence, according to Petkov.
“We supported all the sanctions,” he said. “We’ve become a very, very predictable and strong supporter” of NATO and EU decisions, he said, adding: “Bulgaria is not anymore a soft country that has only balancing acts.”
“I think nobody in Europe is protected at this point, both from what’s going to happen next — we don’t know what Putin is doing anymore — and also from even accidental nuclear threat,” the prime minister said, pointing to risks facing Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, which are being fired on by Russian forces.
At the same time, Petkov conceded that Bulgaria was not willing to go as far as some of its NATO allies.
While Sofia is providing Ukraine with humanitarian assistance, Bulgaria is not sending weapons.
“We’re too close to the conflict to be able to do that,” Petkov said. Last year, Bulgarian prosecutors said they were investigating Russia’s possible involvement in explosions at Bulgarian arms’ depots, and investigators worked on the understanding that Moscow was seeking to stop the weapons being shipped to Ukraine.
“We’re not taking the direct risk,” Petkov said, noting however that “it’s another question if it’s overall NATO or European joint action.”
Similarly, the prime minister rejected the idea of enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“My heart says we do not leave Ukraine alone,” he said, but added that “I don’t think I can send Bulgarian planes flying over Ukraine, fighting with Russian jets — that’s the reality.”
He also said Bulgaria would not be able to sanction Russian oil due to its dependency.
But Petkov emphasized he wanted to show support for Kyiv — and is in favor of granting Ukraine EU candidate status.
“If it was up to me,” the prime minister said, “they’ll get my vote today.”