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Bulgarian minister: 'We cannot rule out' clash between NATO, Russia in Black Sea

by Martin Fornusek August 18, 2023 11:36 PM 2 min read
Bulgarian Defense Minister Todor Tagarev at the Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting on June 15, 2023 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo credit: Omar Havana/Getty Images)
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Bulgaria works to prevent tensions from escalating in the Black Sea, but an open clash between NATO and Russia in the region cannot be ruled out, Bulgarian Defense Minister Todor Tagarev said, the NOVA TV channel reported on Aug. 18.

Asked whether there is a possibility of a confrontation between the Alliance and Russian forces in the Black Sea, the minister said: "We cannot rule out such an option. We are working to prevent it. Russia constantly provokes NATO."

Tensions in the Black Sea region began to mount after Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, followed by strikes against Ukraine's port infrastructure and threats against civilian shipping.

Both Moscow and Kyiv announced that vessels sailing to the ports of their opponent will be treated as carriers of military cargo, and the Russian side warned that it will inspect all vessels sailing on the Black Sea.  

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed on Aug. 13 that its patrol boat had fired warning shots against the Palau-flagged cargo ship Sukru Okran, forcing it to undergo inspection.

However, according to a Ukrainian open-source intelligence outfit InformNapalm, Russia has lied about the event: "There was no helicopter and no warning shots either. There were only threats from the Russians over the radio."

Tagarev commented on the alleged incident, saying that "a warning shot does not mean that a ship was fired upon," stressing that the civilian ship was reportedly allowed to continue in its journey. However, it is apparent that Russia is "aggressively trying to impose its will," he added.

On Aug. 13, Bulgaria's defense minister said that the protection of the Black Sea region is now a top priority for NATO.

The Alliance has pledged to increase surveillance in the area, using patrol aircraft and drones, and has already strengthened its presence in the region with two new multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria and Romania.

NATO-Ukraine Council meets for second time, addresses Black Sea security
The NATO-Ukraine Council met on July 26 to discuss the security situation in the Black Sea region following Russia’s one-sided termination of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
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