Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was confronted by protestors in Bulgaria Saturday as he met with Prime Minister Kiril Petkov to discuss the ongoing security crisis with Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Demonstrators appeared to protest any military assistance for Ukraine as they held up Bulgarian and Russian flags as Austin and Petkov met for a joint press conference.
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Top players in the 30-member NATO alliance, like the U.S., U.K., France, Canada and 17 other European nations, have provided military aid to Ukraine and have encouraged other allies to follow suit.
But Bulgaria on Saturday again refused to engage in discussions of sending defensive arms to Kyiv.
“I’d like to say very clearly that we have not discussed any military assistance to Ukraine,” he said, noting that reports stating otherwise were “fake news.”
“We are working together to reinforce the eastern flank of NATO, but nothing more than that has been discussed,” he added.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that in the face of Russia’s aggression in Europe, the alliance needed to re-evaluate its force posture and build up its security defenses.
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Stoltenberg said the move should deter any consideration by Russian President Vladimir Putin of extending his war outside the borders of Ukraine, and reaffirmed that an attack on any NATO nation will trigger a response from the entire alliance.
Austin did not comment on Bulgaria’s refusal to send aid to Ukraine as it continues to be pummeled by Russian forces but instead applauded the resilience of the Ukrainian forces.
“Russia’s aggression has galvanized the Ukrainian people, NATO and the free world,” the defense secretary said. “Their struggle is crucial for the rules-based international order and for the common values that Bulgaria and the United States share.”
Bulgaria, which does not share a border with Ukraine, has accepted thousands of refugees and pledged to aid Ukraine through humanitarian assistance and by providing medical aid, Petkov said Saturday.
“But being so close to the conflict, right now I have to say that currently, we will not be able to send military assistance to Ukraine. This will not be possible,” he added.
Austin said the U.S. and Bulgaria will continue to conduct military trainings and work to improve Bulgaria’s military readiness and bolster “NATO’s interoperability.”