Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov
So Prime Minister Borissov,
Welcome to NATO Headquarters. It’s great to see you here again, and it’s great to meet with you, because Bulgaria is contributing to NATO in many different ways and to our shared security.
This year we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Bulgaria joining this Alliance. And we are so grateful for your support to different NATO missions and operations.
Including in Afghanistan, where Bulgarian troops are helping local forces to fight international terrorism.
Closer to home, you also help us in our peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Helping to stabilise the Western Balkans, which is important for all of us.
You also make essential contributions to Black Sea security, providing ships to NATO patrols in the region.
So Prime Minister, we agree on the importance of NATO’s presence in the Black Sea region.
The security environment has changed – and NATO is responding. We have strengthened our presence in the Black Sea region on land, at sea and in the air. With a multinational battlegroup in Craiova, air policing, and a strong naval presence.
We are also increasing our support to partners in the region. With training for maritime forces and coast guards, and more port visits and exercises. NATO’s standing naval groups are training regularly with Georgian and Ukrainian ships, improving our ability to work together with them in the Black Sea region.
And this year alone, Allies have held five major exercises in the Black Sea region.
To keep our people safe in a more unpredictable world, we need to invest in defence. So I really welcome that Bulgaria is now stepping up and has increased its defence spending, to more than 2% of GDP in 2019. Actually, the number is 3,25% which is significant and which demonstrates that Bulgaria is now among the 9 allies meeting the 2% guideline, spending more than 2% of GDP on defence.
And by doing that you are alos able to invest in major and modern equipment. Modern capabilities and contributions to our missions and operations make NATO stronger. And they make Bulgaria safer.
Last week, we had a NATO leaders meeting in London. We took decisions to strengthen and adapt the Alliance. We have increased the readiness of our forces. We declared space as the fifth operational domain for NATO – alongside land, air, and sea and cyberspace.
We agreed a new action plan to fight international terrorism.
And we committed to ensuring the security of our telecommunications infrastructure, including 5G.
We also had a strategic discussion on Russia, the future of arms control, and the rise of China. So as the world is changing, NATO is changing. And our ability to change is one of the main reasons why NATO is the most successful Alliance in history. Adapting and changing when the world is changing.
So Prime Minister, once again welcome to NATO, it’s great to see you and I’m looking forward to continue working with you.
Please, you have the floor.
BOYKO BORISSOV [Bulgarian Prime Minister]: [Interpreted]: I will start. Good. Hello from me. Well, as I said at the meeting, that the good neighbourly relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia gave the opportunity to North Macedonia to become the 30th member of NATO. This is a fact. And I told this . . . Stoltenberg, I told him about the history from the first meetings between us. When I did not . . . where I said we cannot increase defence spending. We had to pay for the Russian nuclear reactor, because we had to … [inaudible] the investors - 3.7 billion. We had to pay for the American nuclear . . . for the American stations, they were, well, more than seven or eight billion that we had to pay back. Unfortunately, at that time, I said, the last thing we are going to think about is to buy armament, because the GDP of Bulgaria was increased, because our economy started working out many times better. We allowed ourselves to give money for … [inaudible] money, not to increase by 10 per cent the salaries of the military person, men . . . the military personnel, and to revive again the military school for pilots. But we bought the best jets in Central and Eastern Europe, it’s F-16 Block 70, we bought these jets so we can meet all NATO standards. Several years ago, the parliament ratified the purchase of two minesweepers from the Netherlands. We’re using the … [inaudible] agenda. Oh, I spoke to colleague Stoltenberg and I ask him, and Admiral . . . and Admiral … [inaudible]. Norway is giving away two . . . giving submarines, decommissioning it. We would like to buy submarines from Norway. You know that we had just one submarine and now it’s in the museum. So if our economy develops and if our budget just redevelops, so when we are going to modernise the Bulgarian armed forces, not only in the, in the air force where we . . . we have about … [inaudible] per cent of the budget goes to the air force. We have Cougars. We have Panthers. We have Spartan aircraft. But we have to . . . we have to pay attention to our navy. Well, there we are going to buy two multifunctional naval vessels, patrol vessels, and we are going to work for the land forces. Our special operation forces are one of the best. This is where . . . this is our pride here.
I would like to thank as Bulgarians and to express our admiration for all our Allies, for the exceptional professionalism of the Bulgarian officers, officers and soldiers who are on missions in the world. They contribute, Bulgaria is one of the most reliable Allies, not only in the region, but in NATO, because I can see Bulgarian Admiral Petev. Oh, well, I . . . well, the Commander of Harry Truman, gave me ten times regard for Admiral Petev, remembering about the Bulgarian officers, Bulgarian soldiers. So this Admiral could be very good and is very good for Bulgaria.
For a year and a half, we are working on the industrial cooperation. We get many investors. We took these investors to Terem plants, military Terem plants in Targovishte and we showed the enormous capabilities that Bulgaria has with respect to industrial production, following licences of our own production.
We have scientific institutes. We, in the scientific institutes, we produce very high precision armament and equipment. So why I told my colleague, Stoltenberg, if our economy develops in this way, he will have this budget. We, apart from education and healthcare infrastructure, we are going to allocate additional budget too, for the military use, for land forces, navy and army.
Thank you again for this exceptional high assessment. This high assessment was given to us by, in Washington, by USA. And I think that in our region, NATO is the only warranty, the only warranty for the security. I’m not going to comment about our neighbours on NATO, of our neighbouring countries, because on the left is Crimea, there is Istanbul and behind our back is Kosovo. So you see the principle on which I want and I keep, is the principle that . . . that I share, and Stoltenberg shares this. Well, deterrence and defence. This is what we do in order to be strong and to stop and deter all desires there against our territories and our Alliance.
Second, dialogue, dialogue with Russia. This is why I work actively for the nuclear . . . nuclear power station and for the Balkan Stream. Well, the United States know this. The European Union knows this too. This is nothing hidden, nothing mysterious. So Bulgaria can play a key role in the region in the Black Sea region. So I hope that the . . . that the agreement signed with . . . with Trump for the coordination centre in Varna, is something very good. Thank you so . . . thank you so much.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: Time for two questions. Bulgarian TV?
QUESTION [Bulgarian TV]: Mr Stoltenberg, Bulgarian Public Television,. The Prime Minister mentioned the coordination centre in Varna. Did you discuss this? Could you tell us more detail about it and when . . . when this centre will be operational?
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: Yes, we discussed this centre. And of course, I take note of the Bulgarian offer to host the Centre for Maritime Coordination in the Black Sea.
Currently, this coordination function is located to the NATO Headquarters, Maritime Headquarters in the United Kingdom. What we really appreciate is the strong commitment of Bulgaria and the strong focus of Bulgaria on Black Sea security, and also the different ways Bulgaria contributes to Black Sea security. Also, by investing in new high-end capabilities, planes, but also naval capabilities. And, of course, NATO as an alliance has stepped up our presence in the Black Sea region, in the air, on land, but also at sea, with also more naval exercises.
So this is an issue which is addressed in NATO, but as I said, currently this function is located at NATO’s Naval Command in the United Kingdom.
Let me also add that we also, as the Prime Minister mentioned, Prime Minister Borissov mentioned, we also addressed the fact that North Macedonia will soon become the 30th member of our Alliance. And I thanked Prime Minister Borissov for the strong support from Bulgaria and the friendship agreement that made it possible to invite and to also reach agreement between Greece and North Macedonia on the name issue. So that has been extremely important and it demonstrates Bulgaria’s strong commitment to, also, stability in the region.
BOYKO BORISSOV: [Interpreted]: We are not pressing for the coordination centre. We have coordination function too, we have five exercises. I have always been against the fleet in Black Sea. The role of this coordination centre is deterrence, deterrence role. When . . . when there are two strong sides, where there is this … [inaudible]. I am going to press on this, focus on this. We agreed on . . . to have coordination centre in Bulgaria.
QUESTION [Nova TV, Bulgaria]: Bulgarian television, Nova. Question for Secretary General. I know Turkey is a very important member of NATO, but with the recent declaration we heard from Turkey, maybe we put some question if it’s still reliable partner. In this prospective could Bulgaria, be more reliable partner, have more geostrategic role in the region?
JENS STOLTENBERG: In NATO we have 29 reliable Allies and soon to be, it will be 30 reliable Allies because the strength, strength of NATO is that we defend each other. We stand together. And as long as we stand together, we are all safe and secure.
There are differences between Allies. We are 29 different nations with different history, different geography from both sides of the Atlantic, with different political parties in charge. And there has been differences and disagreements between NATO Allies before. But the strength of NATO is that despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task: to protect and defend each other. And that’s exactly what we see today. Because despite disagreements on trade and climate change, or the military situation in northeast Syria, we are actually doing more together as Allies than we have done for decades. More exercises, more training, more investment in our shared security by European Allies. And also the United States is actually increasing their military presence in Europe. So, yes, there are differences, but we have been able, and we are able, to overcome them.
Turkey is an important Ally and an important Ally for several reasons. Not least, has Turkey, and is Turkey, important in the fight against terrorism. Turkey bordering Iraq and Syria has been extremely important in our fight against ISIS/Daesh, and Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees. So when we deal with a migrant and refugee crisis, of course, to work with Turkey is essential.
BOYKO BORISSOV: [Interpreted]: Bulgaria has never wanted to be more important than some other country. I . . . we had time with Mr Stoltenberg to speak about the region. He knows very well Serbia. He knows Turkey very well. He’s . . . he was the Prime Minister of Norway. He has very rich experience. We cannot substitute Turkey. Turkey keeps the … [inaudible]. Geo-strategically, Turkey has the situation on two continents and it stops and it is the . . . the most unstable region, Syria, the fight against ISIS. Nobody can substitute Turkey.
Yes, Bulgaria, its geostrategic situation, Bulgaria has its tasks and roles and functions. We have been the southern flank of the Warsaw Pact, unfortunately. And Turkey was our adversary, our enemy. And instead of giving money for health care, for . . . for roads, for infrastructure, we had only 30 kilometres very good highway. We had 4,900 tanks. We had many fighter aircrafts. Now, I believe that diplomacy and peace, although that . . . although we are in the strongest Alliance, NATO, our goal is the peace. If there is war, I don’t know if there is going to be a winner. That’s one, we begin, that in deterrence and in the strength is the role of . . . of our NATO.
I spoke about the Russian fleet in Crimea and also the fleet of Turkey. What, what is the task? What is the task? Can you imagine how many ships, how many jets we have to have in order to stop the Russian and the Turkish army? Well, this is the reason why infrastructure plan, the diplomacy, peace, deterrence, the reliability of our partners to look for the reason why, why the situation has come to . . . to Bulgaria. Bulgaria has zero illegal immigrants and Turkey keeps its . . . keeps its agreement with us, not to let illegal immigrants. We do not have one single break. One single break and no single immigrant from Turkey. We do not . . . we do not have any sanctions against Turkey.
Well, and Mr Stoltenberg said that it is not right to make military sanctions against Turkey, because Turkey is going to buy armament from other sources, from Russia. That’s why we spoke about partnership is … [inaudible] - producing and assembling equipment, in maintaining equipment so that all countries, we are committed. We are doing this from one year and a half already. These issues are very good, so that we can say what our opinion is. We have work in diplomacy to try to restore the dialogue with these countries. I am . . . I am so small to give any advice to the Congress of the United States or to whatever, but Bulgaria is in a very vulnerable place. We have suffered for hundreds of years. So I put diplomacy in the first place and the only reliable partner for Bulgaria is collective alliance, NATO. No matter what the assessment of our . . . my colleagues might give us from other parties, I am sure that NATO, NATO is the only guarantor for security in Bulgaria, because we have … [inaudible].