- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

SOFIA, Bulgaria, March 2 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday affirmed his opposition to the use of force in Iraq, saying that the Iraq crisis should be solved through peaceful means.

"We in Russia are convinced that the Iraq crisis can and must be resolved through peaceful means," Putin said during a news conference.

Putin said that "there can be only one criterion in respect to decisions (on Iraq) and that is that all decisions must be based on the principles and norms of international law."

Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and as such has the power to veto any council resolution.

Putin refused to comment the position of Bulgaria, which currently occupies a non-permanent Security Council seat and has so far staunchly supported the position of the United States, saying it would be impolite to do so.

Bulgaria was once Moscow's closest ally in the communist bloc. However during the past decade relations between the two countries have soured as a result of Bulgaria's determination to join NATO and its markedly pro U.S. orientation.

Putin's visit is the first to Bulgaria by a Russian head of state in 12 years and is in large measure due to the efforts of Bulgaria President Georgi Parvanov, formerly head of the ex-communist Bulgarian Socialist Party.

Although Parvanov is the head of state he wields little real power, most of it being concentrated in the government of Prime Minister Simeon Saxcoburggotski, Bulgaria's child king, who emerged on the Bulgarian political scene in 2001 after 40 years of communist-imposed exile on Bulgaria's royal family.

It is only natural for Simeon II, as he is known in Bulgaria, to be firmly pro-American and pro-Western and somewhat suspicious of improved relations between Bulgaria and Russia.

Indeed in recent weeks there have been consistent reports in local media that Simeon and his Cabinet were doing everything possible to downplay the importance of Putin's visit to Bulgaria.

Simeon is only meeting the Russian president for a brief working lunch and has busied himself with meetings with his second cousin, Prince Dimitri Romanoff, heir of Russia's last royal family, who arrived to Bulgaria at Simeon's personal invitation on the day that Putin was being greeted by Parvanov.

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