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Published: Wednesday July 23, 2014 MYT 3:30:02 AM
Updated: Wednesday July 23, 2014 MYT 3:31:38 AM

Bulgaria calls for more NATO troops in southeastern Europe

WARSAW (Reuters) - Bulgaria called for more NATO troops in southeastern Europe and the Black Sea, as well as more joint military exercises, to improve security in the region after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.

An ex-communist state on the Black Sea, Bulgaria was a close Cold War ally of Moscow but joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union three years later.

"The events in Ukraine proved that we cannot take peace and security in Europe for granted," President Rosen Plevneliev said at a meeting in Warsaw of heads of state of NATO countries in central and eastern Europe, according to a statement from his office.

"Increasing NATO forces in southeastern Europe and the Black Sea, carrying out more joint military exercises, as well as the more active use of joint military facilities in Bulgaria, were among the proposals put forward by President Plevneliev," the statement said.

He also said Bulgaria will raise its defence spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2015 and then gradually raise it further to 2 percent of GDP.

Poland, which already spends 1.95 percent of GDP on defence, joined Bulgaria's calls, and said the region should improve military infrastructure so it can get help from NATO if it is needed, the Polish President said.

Bronislaw Komorowski said in a statement on his website that a NATO summit planned for September should bring decisions aimed at improving the defence capabilities of the Eastern wing of the alliance.

On Monday, Romania's President Traian Basescu criticised the EU for a soft stance toward Russia's President Vladimir Putin, after the downing of a Malaysian airliner with nearly 300 people on board in separatist-held territory in Ukraine last week.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Writing by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Larry King)

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