SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s prime minister said on Thursday he would not join a proposed NATO fleet meant to counter Russian forces in the Black Sea as he did not want a war there, a day after Moscow warned against any build-up.
Boiko Borisov said he did not want to see frigates sailing past the tourist resorts, at a joint press conference with President Rosen Plevneliev who described Bulgaria as a peaceful country.
Tensions between Russia and the alliance have risen, particularly since the Ukraine crisis and Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet in November. Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, has its own Black Sea Fleet based at Sevastopol.
Turkey and Romania, the two other NATO members along the Black Sea coast, have called for the NATO fleet and more alliance troops in an area important for both East and West given its energy reserves and closeness to the Middle East.
“I always say that I want the Black Sea to see sailboats, yachts, large boats with tourists and not become an arena of military action ... I do not need a war in the Black Sea,” Borisov said.
“Let’s stop with the speculations that fleets will be set up against anyone,” President Plevneliev added.
“Bulgaria is a peaceful country and its foreign policy is not aimed at anyone.”
A senior Russian diplomat on Wednesday warned NATO not to build up its naval forces in the Black Sea, saying such a move would undermine regional security and Moscow’s already frayed ties with the alliance.
The issue of the fleet is expected to be raised again at NATO’s Warsaw Summit in July as the alliance is considering what more it can do to deter what it sees as growing Russian aggression.
Bulgaria, seen as having the closest relations with Russia out of the former eastern bloc countries, has expressed readiness to take part in a multinational NATO land brigade based in Romania. Sofia said it could deploy up to 400 people for training and joint exercises.
Under the Montreux Convention, countries which don’t have a Black Sea coastline cannot keep their warships there for more than 21 days. NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria are all Black Sea Basin countries.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Andrew Heavens