Bulgarian Defense Minister Stefan Janev has claimed that any further NATO military presence in the country would be contrary to its national interests.
In his view, Russia does not pose a military threat to NATO and therefore strengthening the alliance’s military presence in Bulgaria is not necessary and counter-productive to the organization’s objectives.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov was keen to immediately distanced himself from his minister’s remarks, confirming that they were not the official position of his government, and simply Janev’s private opinion. During a visit to Brussels, Petkov reiterated that “Bulgaria is an active member of the EU and NATO” and that decisions of this kind will be made in coordination with the Allies.
In early February, Petkov briefed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on his government’s position that Bulgaria would contribute to collective defense by setting up a Bulgarian battalion and focus the Bulgarian defense strategy on bolstering the Bulgarian army. While 2,500 U.S. troops can stay in Bulgaria under the base-sharing agreement with the United States and their numbers can be increased to up to 5,000 for a period of three months, there are currently only approximately 200 U.S. troops in the country.
Russia’s earlier demands for international security guarantees included the withdrawal of NATO forces from Romania and Bulgaria. Regarding the Russian demand, the Russian ambassador to Sofia, Eleonora Mitrofanova, somewhat refined Moscow’s position earlier this month: countries that joined NATO after 1997 do not need to leave the alliance, but Russia still wants the withdrawal of military contingents and strategic weapons deployed on those countries’ territory.
Bulgaria is most likely hoping that its pro-Moscow stance will help it bargain for better gas prices. Russia supplies 100 percent of Bulgaria’s gas needs, and pro-Russian forces have always successfully blocked the diversification of gas supplies and the completion of an interconnector to Greece.
Bulgaria is the only member state that has not held a referendum on joining NATO. Sixty percent of the Bulgarian population continues to sympathize with Russia, seeing Russians as liberators. In Bulgaria, 300,000 Russians have their own apartments, mainly in seaside resorts.