With the announcement of the fifth round of legislative elections, since April 2021, Bulgaria is facing an unprecedented level of political instability. Early parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 2, and the political situation is still uncertain.
It brings into question how Bulgaria managed, in such political circumstances, to support Ukraine militarily in secrecy, and how the information did not become public until 11 months after the Russian Federation’s invasion?
We know that, until August 2nd, when the Petkov government ceased to exercise its power after receiving a vote of no confidence in June, the so-called “Harvard Government”, led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Asen Vassilev (founders of the anti-corruption party “Continuing the Change”) was one of the most vehement Bulgarian governments against Russian aggression and, of course, Ukraine’s biggest supporter.
Supply of fuel and ammunition
During Kiril Petkov’s government, Bulgaria provided Soviet-era ammunition and fuel to Ukraine through third parties, as mentioned in an article in the German newspaper Die Welt.
In an interview for Euronews Bulgaria, Petkov stated that: “According to our calculations, around one-third of the ammunition required for the Ukrainian army in the early stages of the war came from Bulgaria.
At the time, not even members of the Petkov government were aware that Bulgaria was delivering such a massive amount of Soviet ammunition to Ukraine. Everything was done in secret, to ensure that this information did not reach pro-Russian circles and that the Russian Federation did not manage to block these much-needed deliveries.
According to The Guardian, “Trucks and tankers regularly went to Ukraine via Romania, and in some cases the fuel was also loaded on to freight trains,” Asen Vassilev said. “Bulgaria became one of the largest suppliers of diesel to Ukraine,” exporting about half of the Burgas refinery’s output, he added. Kuleba confirmed in the interview for Die Welt that the deliveries “came at a critical time”.
Between April and August 2022, Bulgaria covertly shipped diesel fuel to Ukraine, providing up to 40% of its armored vehicle fuel requirements. “Bulgaria became one of the largest exporters of diesel to Ukraine and at times covered 40 percent of Ukraine’s needs,” former Finance Minister Vassilev told WELT. Given that Bulgaria’s refinery at the time was exclusively processing Russian crude oil (Lukoil), these deliveries were extremely difficult to conceal.
The Russian Federation attempted to bring Bulgaria to a state of dependence in every way possible. Even as a member of the EU, Russia sought to undermine the processes of consolidating Bulgaria as a state, as well as its armed forces. In addition, polls are showing that nearly 30% of Bulgarians directly support Russia in the war, primarily due to Russian propaganda, the presence of Russian businesses worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and, of course, the presence of local pro-Russian politicians (including in the government), all of which explain why the supply of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine could not be done openly.
A particularly important point is that, in the current Bulgarian parliament, there are three forces that oppose the sending of arms to Ukraine: the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Renaissance Party (openly pro-Russian) and the Bulgarian Revolt. Most importantly, the influence of the Bulgarian president, Rumen Radev, adds to this pro-Russian attitude. In 2017, he condemned and demanded the end of European Union sanctions against the Russian Federation, this being just one of the actions for which he is perceived as a pro-Russian politician.
With all of the Kremlin’s political and economic clout, let us not forget that Bulgaria is a member of the European Union and NATO, and has obligations to a unique European defense strategy. Bulgaria is also a member of the Rammstein group, and its military industry, which is based on the production of Soviet weapons and ammunition, is no longer as susceptible to Russian influence. As a result, despite the presence of all these Russian agents, it was impossible to determine whether and how much support Ukraine received from Bulgaria.
Supply of weapons and ammunition
According to Bulgarian State Television, Alexander Mikhailov, the former head of the Bulgarian arms factory “Kintex” (the largest producer of arms and ammunition in Bulgaria), stated that the supply of arms from Bulgaria is carried out through two key directions, namely Poland or Romania, though this occurs more frequently through Ukraine’s western neighbor, Poland (these transports passing through Romania). However, Bulgarian media repeatedly stated that Ukrainian cargo planes flew directly from several airports. It should be noted, however, that Bulgaria as a country does not supply weapons to Ukraine directly through the state budget, but rather indirectly through Bulgarian manufacturers and traders who export large quantities of weapons to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and, before the Russian aggression in Ukraine, companies from countries like Poland were not clients of Bulgarian companies.
Bulgaria is one of Ukraine’s largest indirect suppliers of arms, as the Bulgarian press has repeatedly stated. Although Bulgaria and Hungary are the only NATO and EU countries that officially refuse to send military aid to Ukraine, the Bulgarian authorities’ statements and shadow aid actions contradict each other.
In April 2022, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmitry Kuleba, approached the Bulgarian government with a request to supply weapons to Ukraine, which was officially refused in May.
Then in August, unofficially, military aid was announced, only to be denied in September.
As late as November, it became known again that direct deliveries of weapons to Ukraine were made from Bulgaria, and only in December was the “first package of military support” to Ukraine voted in the Narodno sabranie (National Assembly) of Bulgaria.
According to experts, Bulgaria supplied Ukraine with weapons and ammunition worth at least one billion euros through intermediaries. Just in the first 120 days of the war, 60 cargo flights with weapons were carried out from Bulgarian military airports, with the average transport capacity being about 70-80 tons of cargo per plane.
Instead of conclusions
Without Bulgaria’s military assistance in the form of weapons, ammunition, and fuel, Ukraine would have struggled to defend itself against the Russian invasion and would have been in a weak military position. Furthermore, the fact that this military assistance was delivered covertly benefits Ukraine because the adversary is unaware of the exact quantity of weapons and ammunition.