In 2022, Bulgaria’s arms exports exceeded $3 billion, which is 5 times more than in 2019. And in February 2023, after 35 years of inactivity, the Soviet Terem plant in the town of Kostenets in the mountains resumed work in Bulgaria, firing 122-mm shells.
And be sure that this is directly related to Ukraine and the largest war on the European continent since the Second World War, unleashed by Russia.
Why did TSN.ua decide to write again about Bulgaria and its importance for Ukraine?
First, Bulgaria is one of the leading producers of Soviet-caliber ammunition in Europe. In the spring of last year, Bulgaria simply saved us with secret supplies of ammunition. And until the Ukrainian army completely switches to the NATO caliber, cooperation with Bulgaria is critically important for us.
Secondly, Bulgaria is a member of NATO and the EU. This year we expect decisions on European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. Given the rather neutral attitude of Bulgarian citizens towards Russia’s war against Ukraine according to opinion polls, President Rumen Radev’s frank playing along with Russian narratives, and a deep political crisis, Kiev needs to build a very proactive policy in Bulgaria in order to prevent Moscow from spreading its influence there.
Thirdly, it is not entirely clear how the newly-minted Ambassador of Ukraine to Bulgaria Olesya Ilashchuk, without experience in diplomacy, can provide all this. At the end of December 2022, TSN.ua already wrote about this scandalous appointment of the OPU. Loud criticism was also heard in other Ukrainian media. But recently Olesya Ilashchuk has already presented her credentials to the President of Bulgaria.
How was the beginning of the diplomatic mission of the new Ukrainian ambassador to Bulgaria covered by the Bulgarian media itself? It’s not hard to guess. Everything was in the news: from Ilashchuk’s practice as a sexologist-consultant and gestalt therapist, to a specialist in precious jewelry. Ukrainian social networks erupted in criticism on a different occasion. On the Facebook page of the Embassy of Ukraine in Bulgaria, Ilashchuk published the first video message on the occasion of the presentation of his credentials. The ambassador speaks Bulgarian there, the introduction begins in her office, where she is dressed in a suit. But after the first minute of the recording, Olesya Ilashchuk is already in an embroidered shirt, which, in fact, caused a scandal. Many on Facebook praised her for the wraparound robe, which is a violation of the diplomatic dress code, some even saw her wearing a kimono, jokingly,
In this text, TSN.ua will not evaluate the dress code of the newly minted ambassador of Ukraine in Bulgaria. We want to once again draw the attention of readers to Bulgaria itself, the acute political crisis there, Russian influences and the need to make every effort to maintain and improve our bilateral relations. After all, the victory of Ukraine over Russia largely depends on the defense capabilities of Bulgaria.
Working seven days a week
“It will sound cynical if I tell you that I want peace. But at the same time I work in an armed factory.” This is a quote from one of the local residents of the Bulgarian city of Sopot in a report by The New York Times. It is in Sopot that the Vazovsky Machine-Building Plant (VMZ) is located, which produces ammunition for artillery and rockets. There were two explosions here in 2015. In the same year, the Bulgarian arms supplier Emilian Gebrev was poisoned. Only three years later, British investigators linked the poisoning of Gebrev, who had repeatedly stated that the Russian special services were involved in this, with one of the suspects in the poisoning of Sergei Skripach and his daughter in Salisbury, “Novichok”, behind which stood the Russian GRU.
Why did The New York Times make this report from Bulgaria? A journalist from a well-known American newspaper went there just on the occasion of the resumption of work at the Terem plant. Currently, Bulgarian military factories work almost seven days a week in several shifts. In particular, VSW in Sopot operates 6 days a week. According to former Bulgarian Prime Minister Kirill Petkov, during the first stage of the Russian full-scale invasion, it was from Bulgaria that the Ukrainian defense forces received a third of all the ammunition they needed. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it was Bulgaria that saved Ukraine when in the spring of 2022 we had an ammunition “hunger”.
“Last spring, the Ukrainian army was desperately short of Soviet-caliber fuel and ammunition needed to fight the Russians. Salvation came unexpectedly from Bulgaria,” Politico wrote back in January. This happened secretly through third countries, in particular Poland, Romania and, oddly enough, Hungary. The diesel fuel supplied by Bulgaria to Ukraine was processed from Russian crude oil at a refinery owned by Russia’s Lukoil at the time.
“Bulgaria has become one of the largest exporters of diesel fuel to Ukraine and sometimes covered 40% of its needs,” said former Finance Minister Asen Vasiliev.
However, the current President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev, known for his pro-Russian views, while the parliament continues to be in a deep political crisis, has repeatedly stated that his country will not officially supply weapons to Ukraine, including Soviet MiG-29 fighters (Sofia now has 16 such aircraft) . ) and tanks. Even in exchange for American financial support and more modern Western systems, as Poland, Slovakia and Greece have done.
Radev is a former head of the Bulgarian Air Force and a MiG-29 pilot. So perhaps there is something personal here. Igor Fedik, head of the New Geopolitics Research Network’s Southeast Europe section, adds that it is logical for the Bulgarians to get rid of their MiG-29s as soon as possible, since according to many estimates, their service life will expire at the end of 2023.
“The results do not pose a threat to the pro-European and transatlantic foreign policy positioning of Bulgaria. Both leading parties (two former prime ministers who took the first two places – ed.) emphasize that Bulgaria’s membership in the Schengen and Eurozone is the main goal on the agenda. In addition, we we are seeing the consolidation of the eastern flank of NATO in the region, and this requires clarity about who will lead Bulgaria,” Vessela Cherneva, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) office in Sofia, tells TSN.ua.
At the same time, Bulgaria not only does not show leadership and initiative in matters of ensuring the security of the Black Sea region and the eastern flank of NATO, but also openly blocks Ukraine’s advance into the Alliance. For example, in October 2022, Rumen Radev refused to join the declaration of the presidents of nine Central and Eastern European countries on Ukraine’s accession to NATO, saying that this could lead to the involvement of the Alliance countries in the war.
Considering that Ukraine has chosen the path of joining NATO following the example of Finland and Sweden, bypassing the correct position of the MAP, Kiev needs to work hard with countries that express open skepticism about this, fearing an escalation from Russia. And Bulgaria is no exception. In addition, do not forget that Bulgaria is a country of the Black Sea region. The Black Sea, as TSN.ua already wrote , is now de facto blocked by Russia. Ukraine proposed a list of specific steps to address this problem. And the support of Bulgaria will be very useful to us.