Bulgaria will agree to open its airspace for Russian military transport aircraft to fly to Syria if the Russians agree to cargo inspections on Bulgarian territory, Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said on September 9 2015.
His statement came a day after the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said that it had refused to issue permits for flights by Russian military transport aircraft en route to Syria in the September 1 – 24 period. Russia claims the cargo is humanitarian aid but Bulgaria has information which has led it to doubt that Russia is telling the truth about the purpose of the flights and the cargo.
Mitov said on September 9 that the European Union has restrictions on the supply of certain types of goods and services to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Every EU member states is obliged to implement these decisions and “when there is sufficient information that gives us grounds to us in this case to believe that there is a disconnect between the stated aim of the flights and the actual delivery, this means that we have not issued a permit,” Mitov said.
If the Russians agreed to the flights being checked at a Bulgarian airport, “of course we will issue such an authorisation,” he said.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry’s decision led to a proposal in Parliament for Mitov to be requested to come to the National Assembly to explain the refusal. The proposal came from Volen Siderov, leader of the far-right Ataka party – one of the two smallest parties in Parliament and which follows a pro-Kremlin line – and was backed by Mihail Mikov, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, also historically cordial towards Russia.
Siderov’s proposal was rejected by 76 votes, 29 abstentions and 58 in favour of those present among the 240 members of the National Assembly.
In a September 9 television interview, Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev said that the issue of Bulgaria’s denial of the overflight permits to Russia should not be politicised.
“This is not a political decision but a technical procedure,” Donchev said.
On September 8, Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said that the decision to refuse permission to Russia for its military aircraft to overfly Bulgarian territory had been taken solely by the Foreign Ministry, and he added that he was convinced that the Foreign Ministry had taken the correct decision.
Nenchev said that he had been informed of the decision and had spoken with Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and with head of state President Rossen Plevneliev.
Nenchev said that the decision should not be exacerbate relations between Bulgaria and Russia:
“We are well-intentioned and do not conduct an aggressive policy towards anyone, and we adhere strictly to the legal framework and the priorities that the country follows – greater integration within the EU and Nato and observance of such decisions taken by collective bodies”.
If it happened that an aircraft that had been denied an air corridor entered Bulgarian airspace, “we must follow the law,” Nenchev said. “The law clearly stipulates that our fighters have to be airborne within 15 minutes, then to intercept aircraft that violated our airspace to locate, visualise, to warn him to land at an airport at which we make an assessment. If he refuses to do so, we need to take other actions that I would not like to even mention,” Nenchev said.