Bulgaria’s Parliament votes additional military aid for Ukraine, possibility of air space for F-16 training

Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on December 8 overwhelmingly in favour of additional military aid for Ukraine, the possibility of use of Bulgarian air space for F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots, and for a limited number of Ukrainian military personnel to be authorised to transit or stay in Bulgaria for training.

The vote, with 145 in favour, 55 against, with seven abstentions, came after the resolution was added to the Order Paper on Friday afternoon after being approved by Parliament’s defence committee 24 hours earlier at a special sitting of the committee.

The additional military aid is to involve Bulgaria providing Ukraine with defective, obsolete and surplus to requirements missiles for air defence.

The resolution, tabled by MPs from the informal ruling majority – GERB-UDF, We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – envisages the transfer of air defence missiles being based on a check that the armaments and materiel that will remain in Bulgaria will be sufficient to keep the country’s wartime stocks properly equipped.

There will be talks with Bulgaria’s Nato allies on Alliance missile systems being deployed in Bulgaria to bolster the country’s defensive capabilities.

The resolution calls on the Defence Ministry to take steps to join the coalition of countries involved in building capacity for Ukraine to put into use the F-16s it will receive, including through joint training and the use of air space.

It provides for authorising Ukrainian infantry or mechanised companies of a strength of up to 160 per year to transit or be in Bulgaria for training.

The debate, characteristically stormy as are all on the issue of support for Ukraine – with the pro-Kremlin minority party Vuzrazhdane and the Bulgarian Socialist Party vehemently against – came immediately after MPs voted to override President Roumen Radev’s veto on the agreement between Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry and Ukraine’s Defence Ministry on Bulgaria supplying old armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine, ratified by Parliament last month.

The pro-Kremlin minority parties levelled their by-now familiar and fatuous accusations that Bulgaria was being “dragged into the war” and would be left with no defensive capabilities through its assistance for Ukraine.

This prompted We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria MP Ivailo Mirchev to urge them to stop fearmongering Bulgarians with talk of war, and to stop telling lies.

Debate meandered into Bulgaria’s own F-16 acquisition, the country’s 1996 financial and economic collapse, and the Christian Bulgarians who under Ottoman rule enlisted in the empire’s army, with Vuzrazhdane leader Kostadin Kostadinov saying that the current ruling majority were “traitors” just like them.

After Kostadinov completed one of several speeches in the debate, Speaker Rossen Zhelyazkov cautioned him not to make the inappropriate comparison of today’s Ukraine to Nazi Germany.

Ivelin Purvanov of Vuzrazhdane said that the resolution opened the way for Bulgaria not to be defended by foreign forces, but occupied by them.

US President Joe Biden’s name came up in the exchanges, with BSP MP Borislav Gutsanov listing various US politicians, including Donald Trump and Ron de Santis, and saying that among them, only Biden wanted the war in Ukraine to continue.

The relevance of Gutsanov’s point, like most from the opposition benches, was not immediately obvious, though it was closer in reference to the present day than Kostadinov’s emotional evocations of the Ottoman Empire.

Replying to the debate, Defence Minister Todor Tagarev – speaking in measured tones in spite of the Vuzrazhdane and BSP benches banging their desks and howling raucously and rhythmically for his resignation – said that it was a policy priority for this government to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty.

Ukraine is an internationally recognised sovereign state with the right to defend itself, and all civilised countries had taken the decision to help Ukraine as much as needed and for as long as needed, Tagarev told the House.

He said that in the 1990s, Ukraine had been the world’s third-largest nuclear power, but had forsaken that in return for guarantees of its neutrality and sovereignty, and such a guarantee had been given by Russia.

In an apparent response to BSP accusations of the current government denuding Bulgaria of military capacity, Tagarev said that in the 1990s, Bulgaria had sold off 40 of its military helicopters – at a time when the BSP was in government.

Tagarev said that the missiles that would go to Ukraine were ones that Bulgaria could not use but that the Ukrainians could put to use.

More than 50 countries were furnishing military and financial aid to Ukraine, and none was at war with Russia, nor would be, he said.

To calls for “negotiations” to end the war in Ukraine, Tagarev said that it was hypocrisy to call for negotiations while Russia was continuing to wage an aggressive war.

(Archive photo: Lockheed Martin)

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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.