Top Bulgarian politicians to visit Kyiv amid row over military aid

Top Bulgarian politicians to visit Kyiv amid row over military aid
Prime Minister Kiril Petrov is preparing to lead a delegation of top politicians to Kyiv. /
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia April 25, 2022

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Kiril Petkov plans to lead a delegation of top politicians to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in the coming days to deliver helmets and body armour to the country and show its support.

The decision comes after a visit to Bulgaria by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba, who called on Bulgarians to provide much-needed military aid and decisively take a side in the conflict. Kuleba accused the authorities of helping Russia by refusing to deliver weapons to Ukraine.

Petkov has said that personally he is in favour of military aid to the country but that he cannot act alone. However, the prime minister was strongly criticised of refusing to take decisive actions and remaining a hostage of one of the parties in his ruling coalition – the pro-Russian Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

Commenting on the planned trip in an interview with bTV, Petkov said: “First, little or big, this is aid. Second, the coalition has to show support to Ukraine together. Being there is symbolic. It was no coincidence that the other [international political] leaders went there, because it is one thing to talk on Facebook and another – to go through a military territory, to reach Kyiv and show the Ukrainian government that we are with them.” 

He added that gathering first-hand information on the needs of Ukraine is also part of the goals of the delegation.

“Anyone says military or non-military aid. But people there have real needs, it is time to go into detail what is necessary and what Bulgaria can give,” Petkov said.

The delegation will include one representative of each party from the ruling coalition so that each party can make an informed decision on whether to back military aid or not. The names of the politicians who will go to Ukraine is not yet confirmed.

Red lines

Petkov seems determined to find a compromise after two of his coalition partners drew completely incompatible red lines on their positions on support to Ukraine, threatening to put an end to the young but already very fragile coalition.

The BSP has repeatedly said that it would quit the coalition if the government provides weapons to Ukraine. Moreover, the party’s leader, Economy Minister Kornelia Ninova, has said she would never sign a document allowing exports of weapons or military equipment to Kyiv. This has so far blocked any attempts to help Ukraine.

Democratic Bulgaria takes the opposite position. It has insisted on such aid since the beginning, and also raised a red flag on April 21, saying that the refusal of the coalition to provide weapons to Ukraine poses the question of the reasons for the existence of the coalition in the future. Moreover, members of the formation have directly said that Democratic Bulgaria would reconsider its participation in the coalition if the ruling majority refuses to help Kyiv.

“In the end it is important whether we shall provide military-technical aid to Ukraine or if we shall bury our heads deep in the sand and hope that the conflict will end without our participation,” Atanas Slavov of Democratic Bulgaria said following a decision of the parliament’s foreign policy committee to discus the provision of “technical aid for defensive purposes” instead of the military aid requested by the formation.

“Categorically this is not the position of Democratic Bulgaria. The text adopted by the foreign policy committee does not correspond at all with our proposals, our understandings. It cannot defend our position as adequate member of Nato and the EU,” Slavov said in an interview with public broadcaster BNR republished on the Democratic Bulgaria website.

Moreover, he added that only Democratic Bulgaria has objections to the idea of providing solely technical aid, as proposed by Petkov’s Change Continues.

“If there is no military-technical aid [in the text of a resolution that parliament should vote on after the Easter break] this would be at least a red flag or a red line. This will be a clear warning of a very deep problem in the coalition and Democratic Bulgaria will have to discuss how to continue in this coalition format,” Slavov said.

He added this would be a very serious line of separation of views that would determine the future of Democratic Bulgaria’s participation in the coalition.

Democratic Bulgaria is ready to vote jointly with the opposition Gerb and Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) on military aid to Ukraine if necessary.

Meanwhile, Slavi Trifonov, the leader of There Are Such People (ITN), which is the fourth member of the ruling coalition, gave a clear signal that his party would back sending weapons to Ukraine. Previously, ITN refused to do so.

Petkov has said he hopes that the coalition will find a compromise and decide jointly on the military aid to Ukraine.

Unofficial weapon exports to Ukraine?

While the debate on military aid to Ukraine is escalating tensions in the country, information provided by Ninova to parliament shows that since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine Bulgaria has exported weapons, spare parts, ammunitions and armoured defensive equipment worth more than €316mn, which is three times higher y/y, Dnevnik news outlet reported.

Local media also quote data indicating Bulgaria is the fourth largest weapons and military equipment importer to Ukraine. Between February 20 and April 13, the Bulgarian authorities issued 31 permits for transfers of military equipment to EU member states. The exports were to Denmark, Slovakia, Czechia, Germany, Spain, Slovenia, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Estonia. There was also a transfer to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which is located in Poland.

Atanas Atanasov, one of the leaders of Democratic Bulgaria, said that Bulgaria is exporting weapons to third countries, which are then provided to Ukraine. Rumours that Bulgaria is unofficially providing weapons to Kyiv has been spreading in the past weeks but they were not officially confirmed by the authorities.