site.btaMPs Comment on Possible Further Military Aid to Ukraine and Plans to Build NATO Base near Yambol
Members of various groups in the Bulgarian National Assembly Thursday commented on plans for the country to provide further military aid (including air defence systems) to Ukraine and to build infrastructure for NATO's battlegroup in Bulgaria, near the southeastern town of Yambol.
The comments came a day after Defence Minister Todor Tagarev told the National Assembly Defence Committee that the war in Ukraine is not likely to end soon and it will be necessary to continue to support Ukraine in defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Back in August, the Bulgarian Socialist Party asked Tagarev whether the Defence Ministry plans to give C-300 air defence systems to Ukraine. In his hearing on Wednesday, Tagarev also discussed the future building of infrastructure (military barracks, vehicle shelters and roads) for NATO's multinational battlegroup in Bulgaria. Tagarev said the project will cost BGN 100 million.
National Assembly Defence Committee Chair Hristo Gadzhev (GERB-UDF) believes that the military aid which Bulgaria will continue to provide to Ukraine may not necessarily include C-300 anti-aircraft missile systems. Noting that the matter has not been deliberated yet, Gadzhev said one of the options is to supply defective missiles to be used for spare parts, but he added that it remains to be seen what the Defence Ministry can offer. Ukraine's lists of requested aid are almost unchanged since the beginning of the war. Gadzhev recalled a National Assembly resolution of last year, according to which Bulgaria should not weaken its own defence capabilities while trying to provide military aid to Ukraine.
Discussing the building of a NATO base near Yambol, the Defence Committee Chair pointed to a lack of communication with the public, particularly the local community, who need to be convinced that the project will contribute to Bulgaria's national security and is in line with NATO's deterrence policy. He said the Yambol area was picked by the former caretaker government. Gadzhev expects the project to cost less than the BGN 100 million named by Defence Minister Tagarev, given that much of the infrastructure is already in place and only needs rehabilitating.
Ivailo Mirchev (Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria), who sits on the Defence Committee, argued that Bulgaria does not have surplus air defence systems to provide to Ukraine. He expects Defence Ministry experts to say whether Bulgaria can supply defective missiles to be used for spare parts. The possibility to provide C-300 systems has not been considered, because they are essential for Bulgaria's security, Mirchev said.
The military base near Yambol does not have to be built urgently, the deadline could be 2025 or 2026, according to Mirchev. The feasibility study for the project is yet to be completed, and no one knows what exactly the future facility will look like. Mirchev said Bulgaria needs to make sure that no one even thinks of blocking its economic zone in the Black Sea the way Russia has effectively done for over a month now. Bulgaria should be strong enough to defend itself using new weapons and assisted by its Western partners, he said.
According to Georg Georgiev (GERB-UDF), everything Bulgaria does military-wise is in keeping with its status as an ally in NATO, so any assertions that the nation's interests have been ignored are mere propaganda. This applies to the building of a NATO base near Yambol as well, he said.
Another Defence Committee member, Ivelin Parvanov (Vazrazhdane), said that the Bulgarian Armed Forces need more weapons, including air defence systems, and therefore the country should not donate armament to others. Parvanov accused the Defence Minister of high treason. At a time that the Bulgarian Armed Forces are faced with a crisis, the country should not give away something before getting something else, he said. Bulgaria can act as a mediator in working out a peace agreement, and it makes no sense for the country to pose as a hawk, Parvanov said.
According to him, Vazrazhdane will support the building of a NATO base near Yambol, provided it accommodates Bulgarian servicepersons. The party continues to insist that Defence Minister Tagarev should resign.
Delyan Peevski (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) said he will not comment until the Defence Ministry comes up with a decision.
Stanislav Balabanov (There Is Such a People) said Bulgaria's national security should take precedence over everything else. He advised against abrupt moves. Concerning the future military base near Yambol, Balabanov said the Defence Minister should come to the National Assembly to give details and prove that the project is beneficial for Bulgarian society.
Atanas Zafirov (BSP for Bulgaria), also a member of the Defence Committee, expressed his dissatisfaction with the Defence Minister's answer to the question of whether his ministry intends to donate the Bulgarian C-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Ukraine. He expects a more informative answer at a closed-door meeting, which will probably take place next week. According to Zafirov, the Defence Minister neither confirmed nor denied the speculation about C-300, which, the MP said, probably means "yes", and this is absolutely unacceptable to his parliamentary group. The idea of providing defective missiles to be used for spare parts was not discussed on Wednesday, Zafirov said. He warned that if this happens, the next step will be to give away the systems which protect the Bulgarian capital Sofia and the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant. He called it a very bad idea.
Discussing the future NATO base near Yambol, Zafirov said it became clear during the Defence Minister's hearing that nothing requires the building of "such a town" right now. Zafirov explained that the battlegroup is to be enlarged to 1,500 servicepersons from the current 1,000. It is currently stationed at the Novo Selo Base, which can easily take the group's enlargement, he added.
Zafirov even doubts that such an enlargement is necessary, because nothing calls for the deployment of this type of force in Bulgaria at present. He said the money for the project (BGN 100 million) will go into a bottomless pit. By the time the project is completed around 2025, the war in Ukraine may have ended, he said.