The United States has voiced serious "concern" regarding Bulgarian President Rumen Radev's recent statement that Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, a region forcibly annexed by Moscow in 2014, was currently "Russian."
Radev, 58, made the remark during a TV debate between him and his center-right opponent, Anastas Gerdjikov, ahead of a presidential runoff vote on November 21, which he won by a landslide.
Radev said Bulgaria must keep pragmatic ties with Moscow and should not view it as an enemy, not least because of close historical and cultural links.
Questioned by Gerdjikov during the debate about whether he regrets his criticism of EU sanctions on Russia, imposed after the 2014 annexation, Radev responded that Crimea was "Russian at the moment," adding, "What else can it be?"
In 2016, Radev had campaigned for the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia in the election that saw him win his first term as president.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the recent statements of Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in which he referred to Crimea as 'Russian,'" the U.S. Embassy in Sofia said in a statement on November 22.
"The United States, G7, European Union, and NATO have all been clear and united in our position that, despite Russia’s attempted annexation and ongoing occupation, Crimea is Ukraine," it said.
"All of us, including Bulgaria, declared at the Crimea Platform Summit in August that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine and that we do not and will not recognize Russia's efforts to legitimize its illegal seizure and occupation of the peninsula. In recent days we have communicated our deep concern to the Bulgarian government in Washington and in Sofia," the statement said.
Later in the day, Radev's office issued a statement saying that the head of state "has repeatedly stated that the annexation of Crimea is in violation of international law."
"From a legal point of view, Crimea belongs to Ukraine and our country has repeatedly stated its support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity," it added.
Following Radev's comments on Crimea last week, Ukraine on November 19 summoned the Bulgarian ambassador to Kyiv to voice concern about Radev’s comments.
“The words of the current Bulgarian president do not contribute to the development of good neighborly relations between Ukraine and Bulgaria and are sharply dissonant with Sofia’s official position on supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on November 19.
Radev, who campaigned for the November election on an anti-corruption platform, took 66 percent of the vote in the runoff after falling just short of a majority in the first round.