Bulgarian PM Borissov: ‘We’ll buy new jet fighters when we’re ready’

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has hit back after President Roumen Radev, a former Air Force commander, publicly criticised him about his statements hinting at a possible delay of years in acquiring new jet fighters.

While Bulgaria has received three bids to supply fighter aircraft, with a military expert committee ranking the bid by Sweden’s Gripen as top, Borissov and others in his government are showing scant urgency about proceeding with the long-delayed upgrade of the Air Force.

“Is the military going to consist only of fighters?” Borissov said on May 26. “A year ago, President Radev, then the Air Force commander, said that the MiGs had to be repaired because they could remain in use up to 2028. Isn’t that what he said?

“That is why, in fulfilling his desires, relying on his highest competence in this subject, we have established last Friday ‘Avionas’,” Borissov said, referring to the state acquisition of the military plant.

Borissov said that the government would now spend a further 15 million leva on the factory to retrofit it and carry out overhauls of the MiG-29 and SU aircraft and helicopters there.

He said that the Defence Ministry had not explained to him how they chose Gripen “so quickly” one month after all military experts were replaced. Borissov was referring to the several changes of personnel in Defence Ministry positions at the time of the Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet, which was in office until early May.

Borissov said that he wanted to examine the matter because of the “millions” it would cost taxpayers.

Provisional estimates of the total cost of Bulgaria’s projected acquisitions – the jet fighters, naval patrol vessels and armoured cars – are somewhere between 2.5 billion and three billion leva.

Borissov said that he had heard Radev talk about raising pensions, and payments to people with disabilities. He had heard everyone talking about how there should be higher salaries.

At the same time, the head of the army wanted higher pay for military personnel, and the head of the navy wanted new ships.

“Instead of talking and creating some tension, it is right to get together and say that we have so much money, and by 2023 we need to put it into equipment. There’s going to be a Consultative Council on National Security, we’ll talk about these things,” Borissov said.

Radev, as head of state, has called a meeting on May 30 of the Consultative Council on National Security, which brings together the head of state and head of government, key cabinet ministers, leaders of political parties represented in Parliament, and security and intelligence chiefs. The council is billed to discuss issues of national security, but it has not been made clear precisely what they will be discussing.

Borissov said: “Moreover, the airplane is not the most important thing in an army, but the ground forces. Not only for armored machinery, but also for the fleet and aviation. These are three generations of troops. That is how the money should be planned, to make it happen by 2023. Aircraft should be last.”

In Brussels for a Nato summit on May 25, Radev – commenting on Borissov’s statement about possibly continuing for 11 years to use the ageing Russian-made aircraft instead of acquiring Western-made fighters – said that the changing the positions and priorities on a daily basis did not work in the interests of Bulgarian security.

Radev called for serious debates on these important issues, saying that there were decisions by Parliament that undermined decisions by other institutions and which undermined institutionality in Bulgaria as a whole.




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.