The celebrations were held in the Stara Planina mountains of the Shipka Pass, a strategic area on the shortest route between Istanbul and Turnovo, Bulgaria. During the 1877–1878 Russo-Turkish War a combined force of Russian and Bulgarian troops fought several bloody defensive actions in this area against superior Turkish forces. The heroic defence of Shipka in the summer and winter of 1877 paved the way for a subsequent Russian counter-offensive and helped win the war. The March 3, 1878 San Stefano peace treaty laid the foundations of Bulgarian statehood.
The Presidents of Russia and Bulgaria laid wreaths at the Shipka Peak Monument of Freedom and visited the Memorial Church of the Nativity. His Holiness Maxim, Patriarch of Bulgaria and Metropolitan of Sofia, held a funeral service in memory of the defenders of Shipka in the Church’s crypt.
Both leaders addressed the residents of nearby towns and villages who were present at the ceremony. President Putin said the Day of Bulgarian Liberation was a bright page in the history of both nations, and that Russia and Bulgaria must strengthen the fraternal friendship that had been the hallmark of bilateral relations through the ages. Mr Putin expressed confidence that bilateral cooperation in the 21st century would become a substantial contribution to the development of a united, prosperous and independent Europe.
The Bulgarian President thanked the Russian army for helping liberate his country. He said the victory at the Shipka Pass had made it possible to win the bloody war, to finally end Ottoman rule and to reinstate Bulgarian independence.
The Bulgarian leader said his people would never forget the heroic feat of Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Finnish and Romanian soldiers who fought for Bulgaria’s independence and would bow their heads in gratitude. President Pyrvanov stressed that priceless Russian assistance had made it possible to reinstate the country’s independence and to lay the foundations of Bulgarian statehood.
After the ceremony, both leaders went to Stara Zagora where Russian forces and the Bulgarian militia first clashed with the Turkish army on July 31, 1877. Vladimir Putin laid a wreath at a monument to the defenders of Stara Zagora and signed the distinguished guests book.
At the end of his state visit, Vladimir Putin met with Russian journalists and said his visit had been timely and productive. The Russian leader expressed hope that Russian-Bulgarian cooperation, primarily in the energy sphere, would facilitate the development of a united Europe. Vladimir Putin said he was most impressed by the warm-hearted reception accorded him and by the fact that Bulgaria cherished the memory of Russian soldiers who had spilled their blood for the sake of victory.