Did Bulgaria ‘Secretly Save Ukraine’? That’s what the daily newspaper “Die Welt” claims in its January 18 edition. The article, which is based on extensive research, was also taken over by the English-language daily newspaper “Politico”, which also belongs to Axel Springer Verlag.
Author Philip Volkmann-Schluck claims that after the invasion of Russia on February 24, 2022, the then government in Sofia had a “secret strategy” that began on February 28, a few days after the war began. On that day, the then pro-Western Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
At the time of his trip to Ukraine, Bulgaria’s government had already initiated a procedure for comprehensive military aid to Ukraine, according to “Welt”. “In order to avoid official arms deliveries, ammunition and armaments reached Ukraine indirectly. At times, the EU and NATO member country covered a third of the needs of the Ukrainian army.”
In addition, Bulgaria secretly supplied diesel to Ukraine, securing up to 40 percent of the needs of Kiev’s army’s tanks and vehicles between April and August.
At the time, Petkov ruled in a coalition of four – and his Deputy Prime Minister Kornelia Ninova from the traditionally pro-Russian Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) was strictly against arms deliveries to Ukraine, as was President Rumen Radev.
The lengthy “Welt” article quotes Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as confirming the Bulgarian aid: While some members of the Bulgarian coalition have sided with Russia, Petkov has decided “to be on the right side of history.” and to help us defend ourselves against a much stronger enemy”.
The German Southeast Europe expert Johanna Deimel underscores the complexity of the Bulgarian decision at the time against the background of the strong pro-Russian forces in the country: “Both the Socialists and the President are considered Russia-friendly, I would say that the star is obviously sinking for both. For me it’s just like Petkov said: We have shown that a world without dependence on Russia is possible.
Martin Kothé, head of the regional office for Southeast and Eastern Europe at the liberal Friedrich Nauman Foundation in Sofia, also praises Petkow’s decisions at the time: “Little Bulgaria chose the right side of history and took the full risk. I think that’s exemplary. Germany, under its new defense minister, can take a lesson from that for the future.”
In fact, Bulgaria has not given Ukraine official aid – but through arms sales through other NATO countries. Former Prime Minister Petkov confirmed this in Sofia on Wednesday: “There were no direct deliveries of arms to Ukraine. (…) Our partners from Poland and Romania, from the [United] States and England bought the weapons from the Bulgarian industry.”
This was also confirmed by Petkov’s then Finance Minister Assen Vasilev. According to Vasilev, the decision of the Bulgarian parliament not to supply arms to Ukraine was adhered to.
This had been taken under pressure from the public and the socialists. The latter had threatened to leave the coalition if they did not.
The head of the Bulgarian Socialists and then Deputy Prime Minister Kornelia Ninova knew about the “secret strategy” – because as Minister of Economy and Industry she was responsible for the arms trade.
In response to a parliamentary question, Ninowa even confirmed that the export of military equipment in the period from March 0 to June 30, 2022 had tripled compared to the previous year.
Ninowa commented on the “Welt” research on Wednesday as follows: “Bulgaria did not deliver weapons directly to Ukraine. Anyone who claims that is a liar. Bulgaria has not delivered a single cartridge to Ukraine.”
In fact, that is also true, confirms the deputy director of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank and Petkov’s foreign policy advisor at the time, Vessela Tscherneva, in an interview with Deutsche Welle: “Ukraine was not mentioned as a buyer. From my point of view, however, it was clear to everyone that this Soviet-designed ammunition was ultimately intended for Ukraine.”
Observers now fear reactions from Moscow. Martin Kothé sees a growing danger of Bulgarian democracy being undermined by systematic Russian disinformation. And Johanna Deimel says: “There is still a risk of sabotage by the Russian Federation against the country, including against the military and armaments industry.”
Cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns have already occurred several times in Bulgaria. “This can even go as far as the incitement of political unrest and targeted destabilization by Moscow and its supporters in Bulgaria,” says Deimel.
This is supported by the fact that the Interior Ministry in Moscow is looking for the Bulgarian investigative journalist Christo Grozev. He is accused of having organized the hijacking of Russian warplanes together with the Ukrainian secret service SBU.
The publications in the “Welt” and in “Politico” could influence the upcoming new elections in Bulgaria and put an end to the political deadlock in the EU country. After Petkov’s government was overthrown by a vote of no confidence in the summer of 2022 and no new government has yet been formed, early parliamentary elections will probably take place at the end of March/beginning of April 2023.
The party of Petkov and Vasilev “We continue the change” and their liberal-conservative partners from “Democratic Bulgaria” now have a good chance of taking over government responsibility again.
According to Johanna Deimel, the Bulgarians are “tired of political crises and corruption affairs surrounding Boiko Borissov”, the long-time prime minister of the GERB party (Citizens for Democratic Development in Bulgaria), who initiated the vote of no confidence against Petrov.
Martin Kothé is of the opinion that the Bulgarian voters will be faced with a clear alternative at the next poll: “Do they want to vote for freedom and the opportunities for personal development and prosperity that it brings? Or do they want to be taken in by a brutal aggressor who must oppress and burn his own people to satisfy his imperial cravings?”
Autor: Alexander Andreev
The original of this article “How Bulgaria Armed Ukraine” comes from Deutsche Welle.