Bulgarian defense minister fired over Ukraine comments

Sofia’s military chief has been sacked for calling Russia’s conflict in Ukraine a ‘military intervention’ rather than a ‘war’

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has fired defense chief Stefan Yanev over his word choices in describing the Russia-Ukraine conflict, calling the situation a “military intervention” or an “operation” rather than a “war.”

“My defense minister cannot use the word operation instead of the word war,” Petkov told reporters on Monday. “You cannot call it an operation when thousands of soldiers from the one and the other side are already killed.”

The prime minister added that “the Bulgarian interest is not in bending our heads down.” Rather, “When we see something we do not agree with, something so obvious, we cannot keep quiet.”

All four parties in Bulgaria’s ruling coalition agreed to call for Yanev’s resignation, Petkov noted. A new defense minister – reportedly Todor Tagarev, who held the position in 2013 – will be appointed in an extraordinary session of Parliament that will be held on Tuesday.

The firing came in reaction to a Facebook post by Yanev. Commenting on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the defense minister warned against using the word “war.” He said there was no need for Bulgaria to side with Russia, the US, or European allies in the conflict, adding, “Our suffering motherland does not deserve to be sacrificed in the game of the great powers.”

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File photo: US Army Lt. Col. Steven Templeton of the 4th Infantry Division, fires a machine gun at Novo Selo Training Range, Bulgaria, December 14, 2018.
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Petkov chided him for the post, saying, “No minister can attempt to do foreign policymaking on his own, especially on Facebook.” Yanev argued that he was being targeted for removal so the government could install a defense minister who will be more willing to serve foreign interests, in some cases at the expense of Bulgaria’s security.

Bulgaria was for long a close ally of Russia and was a Soviet satellite as a member of the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. However, the country joined NATO in 2004 and became part of the European Union in 2007. Petkov has said that standing in solidarity with Western allies is the best way to ensure Bulgaria’s security.

Moscow last week closed its airspace to flights from Bulgaria, after the Balkan country blocked Russian air carriers from its territory in response to the attack on Ukraine.

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