Having said earlier that Bulgaria would not extend a costly contract with a Russian firm to maintain the country’s ageing fleet of MiG fighter aircraft, Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said that Bulgaria could sign a deal on having two repaired for a price of about 24 million leva (about 12.2 million euro).
Nenchev’s statement on May 4 came after he signalled repeatedly that he would not extend the long-standing contract on the repair of the Russian-made MiGs, and last week said in a media interview that he had been offered a bribe – with subsequent threats – to get him to extend the contract, which expires in September.
Prosecutors initiated an investigation into Nenchev after reports of his statement about unnamed persons allegedly offering the bribe and issuing the threats, because of his failure to report this to the proper authorities.
Speaking on May 4, two days before Bulgaria marks its annual army day, Nenchev said, “we will continue defending Bulgarian air space”.
He said that there was no cause of concern, because Bulgaria had “several” MiG aircraft that were usable. Repairing several of these aircraft would cost 80 million leva, and an option was to pay 24 million leva to repair just two to keep them serviceable until the end of 2016.
Nenchev said that Bulgaria – a Nato member since 2004 – was probably the only member of the alliance which was close to fully dependent on Russia.
“We will try to reduce dependence on Russia and other non-Nato countries as much as possible,” Nenchev said.
For this to happen, Bulgaria would have to invest hundreds of millions in military administration, air defence and management systems, he said.
He declined to say whether he had already received a request from the Prosecutor-General’s office to question him in connection with his statements about the alleged bribery attempt.
Nenchev said that he expected that Parliament would adopt in June a programme for the development of the armed forces. He said that a development programme for Bulgaria’s defence capabilities had already been submitted to the cabinet.
As to the amount involved in the programme, he said that it was not yet clear what equipment would be bought, but he confirmed that the envisaged amount of spending was about four billion leva.
Nenchev and President Rossen Plevneliev, who as head of state is also commander-in-chief of the Bulgarian armed forces, repeatedly have spoken in favour of increasing defence spending, with Nenchev wanting a revision of this years’ defence budget to increase it.
However, a recent meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security recommended an increase over several years to meet commitments to Nato, starting from 2016, without a defence budget revision in 2015. Prime Minister Boiko Borissov repeatedly had publicly opposed adding to this year’s defence budget, saying that the country does not currently have the money available.
For several years, Bulgaria has faced the issue of replacing its non-Nato-standard Russian-made jet fighters with Western military aircraft.
No government has made a decision on the jet fighter acquisition, with part of the debate being whether to buy new fighters or to acquire second-hand ones. A vexed part of the debate has been that the latter option may push the problem only slightly further down the road as Bulgaria would again face bills for maintenance and the issue of the second-hand purchases being obsolescent.
Borissov has said recently that Bulgaria could get a donation of second-hand US jet fighters from Washington.
(Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29. Photo: Krasimir Grozev)