‘Pro-Kremlin’ Leader of NATO Bulgaria Says No Warplanes, Missiles, or Tanks for Ukraine

Alberto Ortega/Europa Press via Getty Images

The leader of Bulgaria, a European Union and NATO member-state, says his country will not use its arsenal of Soviet-era warplanes, air defence missiles, and tanks to bolster the Ukrainian war machine.

President Rumen Radev says “Bulgaria does not support and is not part of the general order for the supply of shells to Ukraine” he said in reference to an EU joint procurement programme which is believed to be going badly, adding that his country will instead “support European diplomatic efforts to restore peace,” according to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)

A U.S. government-funded news organisation which received CIA funding until at least the 1970s and claims its “mission is to promote democratic values by providing accurate, uncensored news and open debate in countries where a free press is threatened and disinformation is pervasive”, RFE/RL describes President Radev as being “known for his pro-Kremlin leanings”, and said he also ruled out Bulgarian participation in Western efforts to supply Ukraine with military aircraft, air defence missiles, and tanks.

As a former Soviet satellite, Bulgaria’s arsenal of Cold War-era MiG-29 and Su-25 warplanes, S-300 and S-200 air defence systems, and T-72 tanks might be easier for Ukrainian forces to make immediate use of than Western equipment such as the F-16 and M1 Abrams tanks — but Radev is reportedly adamant that Bulgaria’s defence needs must come first.

“As the supreme commander of the armed forces, I am obliged to insist that the defence potential of the Bulgarian Army is not weakened in this complex situation, but on the contrary, it must be maintained and developed,” he said.

Despite its reputation as a relative backwater, Bulgaria is not unimportant in the context of the Ukraine war, having the sixth-largest arms industry in Europe with a particular specialism in the sort of materiel the Ukrainian military is most familiar with.

The United States has claimed it will help “backfill” the military capabilities of allied nations that send Soviet-era equipment on to Ukraine and established funds to facilitate this, with RFE/RL saying the “benefits of that deal were apparent on March 22 when Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad announced that the United States has offered to sell Slovakia 12 new Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopters at a two-thirds discount after Bratislava sent its retired MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine” — although whether discounted helicopters are a truly worthy replacement for a fighter aircraft is an open question.

Bulgaria’s now-dissolved parliament did approve some shipments of “mainly… light weaponry and ammunition” to Ukraine in December 2022, and to repair some Ukrainian military equipment at Bulgarian plants in May, but these arrangements may change after the election this April — the fifth election in just two years in the chaos-wracked EU member-state.

Interestingly, Bulgaria was one of four NATO members that polled as having Russia as its first choice as a wartime ally in 2017.

Russia beat out the United States in the WIN/Gallup International in Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia, and Turkey — all not just NATO member-states but also European Union member-states or, in Turkey’s case, at least an official candidate country for EU membership.

While there was some suggestion that a shared Orthodox Christian faith may have played some part in the results — Russia, Bulgaria, and Greece are all, like Ukraine, predominantly Eastern Orthodox — this would not explain the polling in Slovenia, which is largely Roman Catholic, or Turkey, which is predominantly Muslim.

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