NATO will defend all its allies and territory against a Russian attack, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday, as he arrived for a meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers in Brussels.
"Ours is a defensive alliance. We seek no conflict. But if conflict comes to us we are ready for it and we will defend every inch of NATO territory," he told reporters, while condemning what he called Russian attacks on civilians in Ukraine.
"And overnight, we've also seen reports about the attack against a nuclear power plant.
This just demonstrates the recklessness of this war and the importance of ending it and the importance of Russia withdrawing all its troops and engaging in good faith in diplomatic efforts."
Read more on the Russia-Ukraine War:
- Military updates - day 9
- Russia blames Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant fire on Ukraine
- Sanctions against Russia
- Diplomatic actions against Russia
- Why have Russia's war efforts stalled? - analysis
Russia said it regarded Bulgaria's expulsion of two Russian diplomats as a provocation and said it reserves the right to take retaliatory action, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
#Zakharova: We regard official Sofia’s move to expel two Russian diplomats a day before the anniversary of Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman rule following the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, as a provocation.❗️#Russia reserves the right to take retaliatory action. pic.twitter.com/U01UTVpTO6— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) March 3, 2022
Sofia had expelled the diplomats under suspicion of espionage.
Among Bulgarian politicians, the move wasn't seen as a case of actually expelling spies or taking a stand against Russia, but was rather seen as a simple publicity stunt by the country's chief prosecutor, who is attempting to avoid pushes by the government to remove him.
"It's a game for fools, a smokescreen," former Bulgarian defense minister Boyko Noev said on TV Thursday, as noted by Balkan Insight.
The chief prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, is a controversial figure for having protected Bulgarian officials in the previous government from corruption allegations.
Regardless, the expulsion of the two diplomats came ahead of the celebration of Bulgaria's Liberation Day.
This holiday has been placed under increasing scrutiny as it has been customary for years for Bulgaria to thank Russia for liberating it from Ottoman rule in 1878.
At a ceremony for the holiday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov was met with boos by members of the pro-Russian Vuzrazhdane Party – the smallest party in Bulgaria's parliament – who also threw snowballs at him, calling him a traitor and demanded he resign, according to the Sofia Globe.
On Monday, Petkov had said he would fire Defense Minister Stefan Yanev following his reluctance to describe the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a war prompted calls for his removal.
Montenegro has declared a Russian diplomat persona non grata over violations of diplomatic norms and ordered him to leave the country in the next 72 hours, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.
"The reason for making this decision is an assessment of the Russian diplomat's activities that contravene the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, made by relevant security institutions in Montenegro," the ministry said, without giving further details.
Montenegro has joined international sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The ongoing talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations to resolve the conflict have yet to make much headway, though it did allow for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian civilians to evacuate.
In a press conference, recordings of which were shared over Telegram and on YouTube by the Ukrainian news outlet New Voice of Ukraine, Zelensky said he would not give in to Russian threats.
When asked if he could give any guarantees regarding the negotiation, Zelensky replied: "Guarantees for what? We're not going to attack Russia."
He continued: "Are we in NATO? No. Do we have nuclear weapons? No. Who should I give what? What do you want from us?"
Zelensky then challenged Putin to sit down with him at the negotiating table.
"I'm a normal man, sit with me, talk," the president said. "What are you afraid of?"
On the Russian side, the Kremlin told Russians on Friday to rally around Putin and said that what happened next in the negotiations over Ukraine would depend on Kyiv's reaction to this week's talks between the two sides.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that no documents had been agreed yet with Ukraine at the talks, but that Moscow had told the Ukrainian side how it saw the solution to the war.
Also Friday, Zelensky appealed directly to Russians to stage protests over the seizure of nuclear power infrastructure by Russian troops in Ukraine.
"Russian people, I want to appeal to you: how is this possible? After all we fought together in 1986 against the Chernobyl catastrophe," he said in a televised address.
"You have to... take to the streets and say that you want to live, you want to live on earth without radioactive contamination. Radiation does not know where Russia is, radiation does not know where the borders of your country are."
Russian forces that invaded Ukraine last week have already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe after an accident there in April 1986.
Analysts have said the Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type, but Zelensky said that now was not the time to be silent.
"You have to remember the burning graphite scattered by the explosion, the victims. You have to remember the glow over the destroyed power unit, the evacuation," he said.
"How can you forget that? And if you have not forgotten, you should not be silent."
Ukraine has issued a request with the Red Cross to help create humanitarian corridors for civilians to evacuate.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry pointed out several areas that have been under fire, such as in the regions of Sumy, Chernihiv, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Luhansk and Donetsk.
In these areas, thousands of people are in need of urgent evacuation and are suffering from a lack of electricity, water, medicine and food.