Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on September 8 that the country has refused permission for Russian military aircraft to fly through Bulgarian airspace to Syria.
Permission had been sought for overflight through Bulgarian airspace by Russian military transport aircraft on a route from Russia to Syria for the September 1 to 24 period, the Foreign Ministry in Sofia said.
Bulgaria refused permission because of information received that the nature of the goods stated in official documentation did not match their actual nature. Russia had told Bulgaria that the goods being transported were humanitarian aid.
Bulgaria alone had taken the decision to refuse the overflight rights, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. There were “serious concerns” and reasonable doubts about the cargo, the spokesperson said.
In the West, there are suspicions that the cargo is weaponry.
On September 7, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted as saying that Russia had never hidden its intention to deliver military equipment to the Syrian authorities to fight terrorists. Two days earlier, US secretary of state John Kerry expressed concern to Lavrov about Russian military engagement in Syria.
Russia’s foreign ministry did not initially comment on the Bulgarian decision, but deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who is also the Russian presidency’s special envoy to Middle East and Africa, told Interfax news agency that Moscow would seek explanations for Sofia’s doubts about the nature of the cargo.
“If it is just a case that they make certain restrictions or bans at the request of US, then this raises questions about their sovereign right to make a decision concerning the crossing of their airspace by planes from other countries, in particular Russia, with the understanding that we explained the destination, the purpose and the cargo carried by our planes,” Bogdanov was quoted as saying.
The first deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s federal parliament, the Duma, said that Sofia’s decision was “undermining Russian-Bulgarian relations”.
He described Bulgaria’s decision as a “vassal carrying out the request of his master”.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, vice-president of the foreign affairs committee in the Russia’s federation council, said that the refusal by Bulgaria did not really matter, because Russia primarily used other routes in Transcaucasia and Iran.
That Bulgaria had responded to what he described as the “demands of the US” was a matter to remain on the country’s conscience, Dzhabarov said.
A day earlier, Moscow said that the US had asked Greece not to allow two Russian aircraft to overfly with supplies to Syria. According to Dzhabarov, “everyone knows that since last year Russian aircraft bypass the territory of Ukraine and therefore it is impossible for any aircraft to fly over Greece. The planes that fly to the Middle East, usie the route Moscow – Transcaucasia – Turkey – Iran, in which it is impossible to go over Greece,” Dzhabarov said. He insisted that the aircraft were carrying humanitarian aid.