Sofia (Bulgaria), July 7 (AP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the capitals of Bulgaria and the Czech Republic to discuss military aid and receive assurances of support for Ukraine’s entry into NATO after its war with Russia ends.
Czech President Peter Pavel said on Thursday that it was in the Czech and Ukraine’s interests to start negotiations on NATO membership immediately after the war.
“I believe Ukraine will become part of NATO,” Zelensky said in Prague, adding that the “ideal” outcome of next week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania would be to invite Ukraine to join the alliance.
European integration and bilateral energy cooperation were also discussed during Zelenskiy’s brief visit earlier Thursday at the invitation of Bulgaria’s new pro-Western government, which was sworn in a month ago. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he defended Ukraine’s right to fight Russian aggression and seek help in doing so.
“The occupiers came to our land, killed, tortured, kidnapped Ukrainian children, separated them from their families and tried to instill hatred in them,” Zelensky said. and establish a rules-based international order.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov emphasized Bulgaria’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity as a member of the European Union and NATO.
“Bulgaria has always supported the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, because we believe that an independent and sovereign Ukraine is the key to Euro-Atlantic security in the region,” Denkov said after the talks.
He added: “Russia should unconditionally withdraw its troops from within internationally recognized borders and accept responsibility.”
Also on Thursday, Bulgaria’s parliament approved a statement backing Ukraine’s entry into the NATO military alliance after the war.
The quickest way to restore peace to Ukraine, the Black Sea region and Europe is for Russia to immediately and fully withdraw from the internationally recognized borders of the affected sovereign states, the statement said.
The declaration, backed by a majority in parliament, also called for continued military and technical support for Ukraine so it can defend itself.
The document was opposed by the Socialist Party and pro-Kremlin nationalist groups.
Later in the day, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev objected to sending military supplies to Ukraine, which Zelensky objected to.
“I remain of the view that there is no military solution to this conflict and neither will the growing number of weapons,” Radev said, calling for “sustained efforts to de-escalate the situation, achieve a ceasefire and resolve it peacefully through diplomatic means.”
Although the Bulgarian presidency is mostly ceremonial, it offers a powerful platform to influence public opinion. Much of the population has pro-Russian sympathies for Russia, based on the historical and cultural ties between the two countries.
In Prague, Zelensky thanked Pavel for his country’s support. The Czech Republic has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression, and the Czech president said that would not change.
The Czech Republic has supplied Ukraine with weapons, including Soviet-era tanks, armored vehicles, ammunition and other heavy weapons. The country has taken in a total of 500,000 refugees from Ukraine.
Zelensky plans to discuss further military and humanitarian cooperation, defense and Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction during his meeting with Czech leaders.
Ahead of the NATO summit, the chairmen of an informal group known as the “Bucharest Nine” at the easternmost end of the NATO alliance expressed support in June for Ukraine to eventually join the group “as soon as conditions permit”.
The nine countries are Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. (Associated Press)
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