After a little more than a day of ambiguity and vagueness on the subject, President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Sofia for an unannounced visit. The Ukrainian head of state arrived shortly after noon on a Bulgarian government plane, which was sent to pick him up from the Moldovan capital Chisinau.
Until the last moment it was not clear whether Mr Zelensky would really visit Bulgaria, as rumors about his upcoming visit started circulating in the country on Tuesday afternoon. Until the last moment, it was claimed that the leak of information about the visit could ruin it.
This morning, however, Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov finally confirmed that the Ukrainian president is indeed coming to Bulgaria. Shortly after his arrival at Sofia Airport, where he was welcomed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mariya Gabriel, the two traveled to the Council of Ministers, where they met PM Nikolai Denkov.
Mr Zelensky announced he will meet Bulgarian President Rumen Radev at 3pm, and later he is also bound to meet with the leaderships of the parliamentary groups that submitted the draft declaration in support of Ukraine's NATO membership, which was passed by MPs earlier on Thursday.
Why is Zelensky here?
To judge from recent developments in Parliament, there are three main reasons for the visit of the Ukrainian President.
First, Bulgaria is expected to soon sell to Ukraine the equipment for the Belene NPP that has already been purchased and paid to Russia and has not been built for several decades. The MPs tasked the Energy Minister Rumen Radev with negotiating the sale earlier on Thursday and it is expected that Mr Zelensky and President Rumen Radev sign a memorandum on energy cooperation during their meeting.
Secondly, the Ukrainian President would likely discuss Bulgarian military support. The Denkov-Gabriel government voted a few days ago for a second package of military aid for the Ukrainian armed forces for which Mr Zelensky will likely express gratitude. He might also ask for the delivery of specific weapons platforms. Additionally, it is expected that the Bulgarian parliament would approve a bill that would push for the urgent disposal of an unidentified amount of unutilized army munitions that would be sold abroad (and eventually reach Ukraine).
Last, but not least, the National Assembly is also expected to vote in the coming days on a declaration in favor of Ukraine's accession to NATO after the end of the military conflict on its territory.
"A joint declaration on Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration and a memorandum on energy cooperation are expected to be signed," the Council of Ministers said at noon today. Later in the day, Prime Minister Denkov and Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel will organize a discussion with the participation of Zelensky, as well as "ambassadors, politicians and representatives of civil society", it said.
How has the visit been received?
Very few people other than journalists greeted Mr Zelensky's arrival in central Sofia today. Despite the loud anti-Ukrainian rhetoric in social media channels linked to the Bulgarian Socialists and Vazrazhdane, no organized rally took shape in Sofia.
This was not the case in Parliament, however, where Vazrazhdane and BSP MPs took the opportunity to spread pro-Russian propaganda and lament what they called another series of "treasons" that the Bulgarian parliament and cabinet had committed by pushing for the continuation of military aid to Ukraine and the potential selling of the nuclear reactor equipment.
"Volodymyr Zelensky comes to Bulgaria to provoke and annoy us," said Kostadin Kostadinov, the leader of the pro-Kremlin Vazrazhdane party. He said that the purpose of the visit was not to have a conversation with the Bulgarian head of state, but with "the American Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov".
The Kremlin also commented on the visit, saying that the Ukrainian President's visit to Bulgaria showed that Kyiv was doing everything possible to involve as many parties as possible in the conflict, Reuters reported. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed out that discussions such as those Zelensky is having in Bulgaria will not greatly affect the outcome of what Russia calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine, as he said the current situation on the front line shows.