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Bulgaria torpedoes plans for a NATO Black Sea flotilla in Warsaw

Romania and Bulgaria are deeply divided over maritime security in the Black Sea; Turkey is not making a clear stand.

Far away from Warsaw NATO’s Summit (8-9 July) and in Bulgaria’s former historical capital, Veliko Tarnovo, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov proposed on Saturday the demilitarization of the Black Sea, “without ships and submarines,” novinite reports.

Borisov’s statement comes as article 23 of the Warsaw Summit Communiqué spoke of strengthening “… maritime posture and comprehensive situational awareness,” which is significantly short of setting up a flotilla.

The statement underscored Bulgaria’s opposition to creating a NATO Black Sea flotilla, a Romanian proposal that came in January and enjoyed strong Ukrainian and for some time Turkish support. From Warsaw, Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev explicitly dismissed the establishment of a Black Sea flotilla.

Turkey apparently did not tilt the balance in favour of the Black Sea flotilla. Bloomberg reports that Ambassador Ahmet Unal Cenikoz, former Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan and Iraq and present at the conference expressed ambivalence on the matter, reflecting on Turkey’s special status as the administrator of the Bosporus strait and Ankara’s own relation to Russia.

Final decisions on military commitment in the Black Sea will be taken by the Alliance in October.

Romania proposed in January the creation of a Black Sea fleet to counter Russian assertiveness in the region, especially following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. This would largely have to be based on Bulgarian, Turkish, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Romanian fleets.

According to the 1936 Montreux Convention, warships of countries not on the Black Sea cannot spend more than 21 days in the region.

Early on in June, Bulgaria objected to the plan with Prime Minister Borisov declaring in June that “this is an attempt at involving Bulgaria in another conflict” and “I don’t need a war in the Black Sea.”

By mid-June, Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis went to Sofia to salvage the plan, ahead of the Warsaw NATO Summit in July. But, while greeted by President Plevneliev, Borisov made statements renouncing the plan.

In April 2016, Gallop published a study surveying public opinion across Eastern Europe on perceptions of national security threats. Russia is not considered a threat to national security in Bulgaria. That is unlike Romania, where 57% of those surveyed consider Russia the number one threat to national security.

First Published with New Europe: