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Bulgaria squares up to Russia: ‘Our country does not take ultimatums’

Russian demands that NATO pull its forces from the territories of Eastern European members drew a rebuke on Friday from Bulgaria, a country often seen as maintaining close ties to Moscow despite its NATO membership.

Sofia, 21 January 2022 (dpa/MIA) – Russian demands that NATO pull its forces from the territories of Eastern European members drew a rebuke on Friday from Bulgaria, a country often seen as maintaining close ties to Moscow despite its NATO membership.

“The Russian demand for a withdrawal of NATO forces is unacceptable and not based in reality,” wrote President Rumen Radev in a statement.

Although there are no permanent NATO troops or weaponry in Bulgaria, the decision about whether they should be based in the country is a sovereign one to be made by Sofia in consultation with its NATO allies, not by Moscow, Radev said.

“Our country does not take ultimatums from anyone,” he wrote.

The comments come amid growing tensions in Ukraine, where a long-simmering conflict with Russia is threatening to turn into a hot war, with Russian troops massing along the Ukrainian border.

Russia insists that the troops are on exercises and notes they remain on Russian territory. But it has also argued that NATO intends to expand to include Ukraine and has slammed the alliance for coming too close to Russian territory. It has also demanded that NATO withdraw further west.

The matter has jangled nerves and prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity.

But Bulgaria seems intent on reminding Moscow that its influence in the region has ebbed.

“Bulgaria is a sovereign country and we made our choice in that we became a NATO member,” said Prime Minister Kiril Petkov in parliament on Friday, reinforcing Radev’s line. He said there are “no second class members” of NATO.

Petkov said that Russia should enter into a constructive dialogue about Ukraine – which is not a NATO member and which some in Russia consider to be in Russia’s sphere of influence. He also called for a reduction in tensions and urged Russia to take steps towards creating a safer Europe.

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