Pentagon Chief Met by Anti-NATO Rally in Bulgaria, With Activists Protesting Military Aid to Ukraine
21:21 GMT 19.03.2022 (Updated: 04:34 GMT 20.03.2022)
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin traveled to Bulgaria on Saturday, where he met with Prime Minister Kiril Petkov to discuss the Ukrainian crisis and apparently asked Sofia to provide military aid to Kiev. The Bulgarian PM said no.
Bulgarian citizens rallied on Saturday against giving its "few remaining weapons" to Ukraine and demanded the withdrawal of NATO from the country.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence, where Austin and Petkov met for a joint press conference, waving Bulgarian and Russian flags. They were heard chanting, "NATO Out".
Similar protests took place in Rome and Piza, Italy, where activists of a major Italian trade union, USB, opposed sending weapons to Ukraine and called on the government to ditch NATO.
While many NATO members have pledged to pump Ukraine with weapons, the Bulgarian government has not been particularly supportive of the idea, with Petkov dismissing reports that Sofia discussed the topic as "fake news".
"We are working together to reinforce the eastern flank of NATO, but nothing more than that has been discussed", he said.
Bulgaria has been a member of NATO since 2004, when it along with several other Eastern European nations was welcomed into the alliance following the "Big Bang" enlargement round announced at the November 2002 Prague summit.
On 24 February, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance would be putting its ships and aircraft on high alert together with the reinforcement of NATO's eastern flank. However, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has desperately begged Western states to send troops to fight for Kiev, they have repeatedly stated that Ukraine is not a member of NATO (and is unlikely to be one in the near future), basically demonstrating that despite their rhetoric, the Ukrainian crisis is not their business.
Zelensky's request for a no-fly zone was also snubbed by the United States, as Washington has no desire to risk an open military confrontation with Russia.
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