KYIV/SOFIA (Reuters) – Ukraine summoned the Bulgarian ambassador on Friday after Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said the Crimean Peninsula was part of Russia after being annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
In a presidential debate ahead of Bulgaria’s run-off presidential vote on Sunday Radev said Western sanctions against Moscow were not delivering the expected results and that the European Union should restore dialogue with Russia, no matter how strained relations were.
“It is very important to be pragmatic in the foreign policy. The sanctions that were imposed as a result of Crimea and Ukraine are not yielding results,” Radev said late on Thursday, adding that the Crimea was “currently Russian.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it expected Radev to retract his comments, which it said jarred with “Sofia’s official position in support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state within its internationally recognised borders”.
Radev, 58, took office at the largely ceremonial post in 2017 with a campaign that called for the lifting of sanctions against Russia.
He is seen as a front-runner in Sunday’s second round of the presidential election in Bulgaria after winning 49.4% of the votes in the first round on Nov. 14.
In a debate with his challenger, Sofia University Rector Anastas Gerdzhikov, Radev said European Union and NATO member Bulgaria should keep pragmatic ties with Russia and should not see it as an enemy.
Bulgaria was one of the closest allies of the Soviet Union during the Communist era. It maintains close cultural, historical and economic ties with Russia, which remains the country’s main energy partner.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv and Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; Editing by Kevin Liffey)