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Bulgaria: Russia's Chief Of Staff To Discuss Military Cooperation

Sofia, 15 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Chief-of-Staff and First Deputy Defense Minister, Army General Mikhail Kolesnikov, is holding talks in Sofia today on Russia-Bulgaria military cooperation. Kolesnikov is scheduled to meet Bulgaria's top military leaders and Socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov and President Zhelyu Zhelev.

Bulgaria's socialist government has expressed reservations about NATO's enlargement, saying Russia's interests must be taken into account. This policy has been strongly criticized by President Zhelev and opposition parties.

Our Sofia correspondent reports that when Zhelev meets General Kolesnikov today, Zhelev is expected to repeat his position that Bulgaria should aggressively pursue NATO membership. Zhelev made the same point today in talks with the visiting Deputy Chairman of Russia's State Duma, Mikhail Juriev.

NATO membership is also an issue in Bulgaria's upcoming presidential election on October 27. Opposition candidate Peter Stoyanov has repeatedly supported NATO membership. Stoyanov holds a firm lead in opinion polls over the candidate of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Ivan Marazov.