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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed for help Thursday in Bulgaria earlier than touchdown in Prague on a tour of NATO nations as Kyiv pushes to hitch the alliance.

Throughout his one-day go to to Bulgaria, a significant arms maker and ally, Zelensky held talks with Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov, President Rumen Radev, and different authorities officers and parliamentarians.

“The principle focus of our talks is, after all, the safety of our nations and our whole Europe, protection help, and protection cooperation. The elemental precedence is vitality. And strengthening our unity in Europe,” he mentioned on Telegram.

Zelensky then moved on to Prague the place he was welcomed with army honors by Czech counterpart Petr Pavel, a former NATO basic.

The Ukrainian president mentioned he would meet Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and the audio system of each parliament homes for “substantive negotiations” throughout his two-day keep in Prague.

He’ll journey to a different NATO member, Turkey, on Friday for the primary time since Russia’s invasion for talks with counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Whereas Zelensky was in Sofia, Bulgaria and Ukraine signed a joint declaration on the Euro-Atlantic integration of the war-torn nation and a memorandum of cooperation within the subject of vitality.

“We’re grateful for the help offered by Bulgaria… Each state has the fitting to defend itself, to guard its kids,” Zelensky instructed reporters. 

His go to got here as Bulgaria was getting ready to approve sending army support on to Ukraine, reversing its former apply of delivering arms to Kyiv through third nations.

Zelensky instructed reporters that sluggish weapons deliveries to Ukraine delayed Kyiv’s deliberate counteroffensive, permitting Russia to bolster its defenses in occupied areas.

Kremlin Criticism

The Kremlin on Thursday criticized Zelensky’s go to to Sofia, saying the Ukrainian chief was making an attempt to “drag” different nations into the battle between Moscow and Kyiv.

“Many nations have already plunged headlong into this battle, each immediately and not directly. This subject will probably be mentioned with the Bulgarians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov mentioned. 

Bulgaria – an EU and NATO member however traditionally and culturally near Moscow – has been deeply divided over the problem of sending arms to Kyiv.

But Bulgaria’s munitions factories have been operating at full capability since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and arms exports from Bulgaria trebled to an estimated $4.3 billion in 2022 over the earlier report set in 2017.

Till now, third nations acted as intermediaries to ship weapons to Ukraine, an answer discovered firstly of the conflict by then-prime minister Kiril Petkov.

“Virtually all the things we obtained within the early days of the battle got here from our Bulgarian companions,” Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak lately mentioned on Bulgarian tv NOVA.

Earlier than assembly Czech officers, Zelensky mentioned he needed to concentrate on “protection help, European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, and the Vilnius NATO Summit” in the course of the Prague talks.

Like many EU and NATO allies, the Czech Republic, a rustic of 10.8 million folks, has offered Ukraine with hefty humanitarian and army support for the reason that Russian invasion started in February 2022.

The Czech Republic has despatched over plane, tanks and armored autos, amongst different objects, and welcomed practically half one million conflict refugees from Ukraine.