Russian aircraft have intruded into Bulgarian air space 10 times in the past month, with Bulgaria’s Defence Minister describing the incidents as a “provocation”.
Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev, speaking in a television interview on July 24 2016, said that the intrusions by Russian aircraft were a provocation, the goal of which was not clear.
“Our fighters are ready to intercept them. It is very worrying, so we take preventative measures,” Nenchev said.
He said that in some cases, the entry of the Russian aircraft into Bulgaria’s area of responsibility was because of “misunderstandings” in air traffic control.
Nenchev said that any such unauthorised entry of an aircraft in the area requires the scrambling of Bulgarian fighters, which consumes a lot of resources.
He said he did not know what Russia’s official explanation of Russia for these events was because talks on the subject were conducted through diplomatic channels.
Bulgaria, a Nato member since 2004, continues to use a handful of ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s fighter jets. The country recently amended its laws to authorise the participation of air forces from other countries in patrolling its air space, with a provision for the use of weaponry subject to Bulgarian authorisation and operational command.
In recent years, there have been a number of incidents of Russian military aircraft entering Bulgarian air space without authorisation, with the aircraft reportedly including surveillance planes flying along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
In 2015, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov indicated that he had allowed the Russian flights to pass unhindered for the sake of avoiding confrontation.
While recent years have seen some sharp exchanges of words between Sofia and Moscow, July 2016 has seen Borissov calling for the Black Sea to be a “demilitarised zone”. At the beginning of July, Borissov said that he had ordered Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov to meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for talks, as part of an initiative to “normalise” relations with Russia.