A national security report adopted by Bulgaria’s cabinet has just been sent to lawmakers for consideration. It is yet to be debated by the parliament’s committee and in plenary. The document named Russia as one of the main foreign policy risks. This is the first time a Bulgarian government openly calls Russia a threat to the country’s national security. According to the document signed by PM Boyko Borisov, “the actions of Russia as a source of regional instability also threaten our basic goal of a united, free and peaceful Europe”. Russia’s increased naval presence is considered a matter of special concern. The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party as well as many MPs from other parties do not agree with that conclusion. They say the government is prone to anti-Russia sentiments.
Boyko Borisov said on July 30 that he wanted “to build the normal, pragmatic relations” with Russia. Meeting Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on September 6, he said Bulgaria should become a bridge to mend the relations between the EU and Russia. Looks like his words do not match deeds. The text of the document submitted to the parliament has nothing to do with pragmatic cooperation or bridging the differences. The government servilely follows the position of NATO and the US On August 1, it supported Macedonia’s access to NATO in the friendship treaty signed on August 1.
It’s not the government of Borisov only. No matter who leads the government, the country is gradually taking a hostile stance against Russia.
Bulgaria is working to bolster national defense systems, including by spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, a target set for all NATO members.
During the NATO defense chiefs’ meeting on February 15-16, the government green-lighted Bulgaria’s participation in a permanent Black Sea alliance patrol. It was decided to strengthen NATO’s air and land position in the Black Sea region. Bulgaria’s participation was a result of agreements reached during the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016.
This NATO presence in the Black Sea is led by a Romanian-Bulgarian brigade, which provides a framework for extensive training of NATO forces.
Bulgaria hosts US F-15E fighters. The planes have been conducting patrols with the Bulgarian air force since last September. The deployment of American aircraft in the region is a very worrisome move. The patrolling mission greatly increases the risk of an accident – a spark that may light a big fire. President Putin has warned NATO about the consequences such a policy would lead to.
As 80 percent of Bulgarian exports and imports transit the Black Sea and tourism contributes heavily to the country’s economy, increased maritime militarization could have a widespread negative economic impact in case of accidents or clashes.
Sofia has a special role to play in NATO’s plans to bolster its military presence in the Black Sea. The US military base in Bulgarian Novo Selo hosts American and NATO troops. The 2006 defense cooperation agreement gave the US access to and shared-use of the three Bulgarian military bases, two years after Bulgaria joined NATO. The agreement marked the first time foreign forces were authorized to use Bulgarian military facilities. Under the agreement, the US can deploy up to 2,500 troops at Novo Selo. The facility can hold as many as 5,000 servicemen during joint-nation exercises with NATO allies. There are plans to add a helicopter landing zone and an air operations building. The base is expected to host US heavy tanks. A NATO maintenance support area is to be built in Sliven or Plovdiv.
Russia has to react in view of massive militarization of the region amid high tensions. In response to NATO growing presence, Russia has deployed S-400 long range air defense systems and Bastion-P (K-300P) anti-ship coastal defense missile systems equipped with Onyx missiles to Crimea. These Mach 2.6 supersonic missiles are highly maneuverable, difficult to detect and have a range of nearly 300 kilometers. With the help of the Monolith-B radar station, the system is capable of obtaining over-the-horizon target designation many miles beyond the horizon. The long-range cruise missile capable Su-24 supersonic attack aircraft have been deployed to the peninsula. Russian aircraft deployed in the Northern Caucasus and Rostov region are also capable of controlling the whole Black Sea.
Despite the government’s attitude, 54% of Bulgarians generally uphold their positive attitude towards Russia. Nobody forces Bulgaria to turn into a springboard of aggression against the friendly country. But that’s what it does. Hostile rhetoric in the report prepared by the Bulgarian government led by Boyko Borisov is outright provocative but there is one thing no government can do – nothing can change the fact that the Russian and Bulgarian peoples have historical and cultural ties. Russian President Putin congratulated his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev on the 25th anniversary of the Treaty on Friendly Relations and Cooperation between the two countries (Aug.4), emphasizing that “Russian-Bulgarian relations have a long and rich history.”
“Throughout time, they remain based on brotherly ties, friendship, cultural and spiritual affinity,” the Russian president said. Indeed, governments come and go, but historic ties between the peoples remain.