The Bulgaria 2009 Review: Defense
Bulgaria in NATO
Bulgaria Celebrates 5 Years as NATO Member, 60th NATO Birthday
In March, Bulgaria held a series of events to celebrate both the fifth anniversary since the country joined NATO, and the 60th birthday of the Alliance. Bulgaria formally joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004, when Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia were also admitted to the Alliance. According to data presented by the NATO Defense College Alumni Association, Bulgaria allocates the smallest amount of money to defense per capita of all the NATO countries five years after its accession.
NATO was founded with the Washington Treaty on April 4, 1949. It started with 12 members, and now has 26 members after its last round of expansion in Eastern Europe in 2004. The 60th birthday of the Alliance was marked by the decision of France to restore the country’s membership to the NATO military structures, ending a 43-year rift as Charles de Gaulle who withdrew from the alliance's military in protest over what he perceived as US domination of NATO policies. New US President Barack Obama made his first ever trip to Europe for the NATO anniversary, where he met leading European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK PM Gordon Brown, and French President Sarkozy.
Bulgarian Bidder Solomon Passy Comes Close to NATO Secretary-General Job
In January and February, the NMSP party and then the Bulgarian government formally nominated Dr. Solomon Passy as Bulgaria’s bidder for the position of NATO Secretary-General as the mandate of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was about to expire in the summer of 2009. Thus, Bulgaria became the only NATO member whose government formally declared a bidder of its own.
Solomon Passy was deemed especially fit to head NATO because of his rich record in the field of international diplomacy and NATO integration as the founder and Honorary President of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, former Bulgarian Foreign Minister (2001-2005), Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2004, and Chair of the Foreign Policy and Defense Committee of the Bulgarian Parliament (2005-2009).
Eventually, the Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, triumphed in the NATO Secretary-General race. His appointment was decided during the NATO summit coinciding with the 60th birthday of the alliance in April, and he took over from Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the end of July 2009. The fact that none of the other bidders for the job, including Bulgaria’s Solomon Passy, could be formally presented during the NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, even led Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov to criticize the Alliance for its serious selection process issues.
Bulgaria-US Military Cooperation
Joint US-Bulgarian military bases established according to the 2006 Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States and Bulgaria are the Bezmer Air Base in the Yambol District;
the Novo Selo Training Ground in the Sliven District; the Aytos Logistics Center in the Burgas District; and the Graf Ignatievo Air Base in the Plovdiv District. The U.S. military units deployed to both Bulgaria and Romania will be known as Joint Task Force East. Under the agreement, no more than 2 500 US military personnel will be located at the joint military facilities in Bulgaria. During a rotation, there might be short periods when there are two groups of 2 500 soldiers at one time in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria, US Forces Conduct Joint Drills at Novo Selo Ground
Throughout most of 2009, Bulgarian and US soldiers conducted joint drills at the Novo Selo training ground. For example, drills in September were on fighting an enemy in an urban setting at the Novo Selo training ground. The military exercises were part of a three-week long practice to include reconnaissance and target shooting, and involved combat tactics used in Afghanistan. The US soldiers had the task to surround the town while the Bulgarians had to diffuse the enemy. In May, a detachment of US marines was in Novo Selo for drills.
US Embassy Clarifies Position on Training Facilities in Bulgaria
In October, the US Embassy in Sofia clarified the official position of the United States on the use and the intentions of the joint Bulgarian-US military training facilities on Bulgarian territory. The press release was a follow up of an article in the US Star and Stripes newspaper dedicated to the facilities, which as the press release points out, "has created confusion and uncertainty" over their use. The US Embassy has made it clear that “all the Joint-use facilities are Bulgarian bases. Novo Selo, as with all the Joint-use facilities in Bulgaria, are where US military units can train with their Bulgarian counterparts at a facility that will offer all opportunities to practice interoperability and skills necessary to work together in a joint environment.“ The US forces who temporarily deploy to Bulgaria to participate in this training return to their home bases once the training is complete. The Embassy pointed out that there are no permanent US forces deployed to facilities such as Novo Selo, and the US plans to keep operating in this manner.
Defense Minister: US Military Will Not Up Bulgaria Investments
In October, Bulgaria’s Defense Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, explained that the US had no intentions of investing any additional funds in the joint-use military training facilities in Bulgaria. He made it clear that the United States was not going to make commitments to new military facilities in Bulgaria in addition to the ones already made.
Bulgaria Businessmen Trained on Working with US Military
In October, Bulgarian businessmen from the city of Sliven took a training session in a meeting with US army officers at the Novo Selo training ground over planned and upcoming construction works at the Bulgaria-US joint-use military training facility. The businessmen were appraised of the scope of the work and the US requirements towards the contractor companies. The businessmen training included contract negotiations and fulfillment of future contracts for the supply of goods and services and participation in projects for civil and humanitarian aid.
US Congressman Poe Impressed with US-Bulgaria Cooperation
In June, Republican US Congressman, Ted Poe, declared he was impressed with the depth of US-Bulgarian cooperation on defense, counter-narcotics and combating human trafficking. He visited the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv and the Graf Ignatievo Air Base to discuss transnational issues that impact both the United States and Bulgaria. Yet, he pointed out that there was still a lot to be done. Congressman Poe is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress and its subcommittees on Europe; Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade; and Human Rights.
Russia Frets over US Military Presence in Bulgaria
In March, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov said Russia was trying to understand why the US military needed to have bases in Bulgaria. In a lengthy interview for The Financial Times Thursday Lavrov commented that the Russia-NATO Council founding documents stipulated several very important things including agreement that there would be no deployment of substantial combat forces on the territory of new NATO members. In his words, when American military bases were put into Bulgaria and Romania, Russia had been invoking this provision of the Russia-NATO Council, trying to understand the need for those bases. He said the Russians have been told that those bases would not represent “substantial combat forces“ but questioned the meaning of a ‘substantial combat force', and concluded that Russia and NATO were still trying to come to an agreement on this issue.
Alleged Abuses and Deficit at Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry
Alleged Scandalous Abuses at Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry
In November-December 2009, three charges were raised against Bulgaria’s former Defense Minister, Nikolay Tsonev (2008-2009) over alleged large-scale abuses and corruption having to do mostly with signing deals that were unfavorable to the state. Tsonev’s successor, Nikolay Mladenov, submitted three folders with alleged evidence on three separate cases to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The first case under which Tsonev is charged involves a contract for the purchase of a US assembly line from Mic Industries for the building of hangars, warehouses, dormitories and others for the cost of BGN 12 M. The purchase of a metal structures machinery cost the state BGN 10 M without the VAT from a US company. It was made in June 2009, and was not signed by the former Minister, Nikolay Tsonev, but by another official. The prosecutors believe that the deal is a violation of the Public Procurement Act, and that there was no need for the Ministry to purchase the machinery in question. The machinery was stuck at the Customs of the Port of Varna because the Defense Ministry had to pay the value-added tax of BGN 2 M in order to receive it. On top of that, the machine works with special kind of tin that is not produced in Bulgaria.
The second charge is on evidence about violations of a contract for entertainment services for the army under which the Ministry paid about half a million BGN. The contract is a violation of the Public Procurement Act, according to Deputy Sofia Prosecutor, Bozhidar Dzhambazov.
The third charge stems from allegations that as principal of the military factories “Terem” Tsonev violated the law by increasing the company's capital by over BGN 38 M. The move has deprived the State, as sole owner of “Terem,” of BGN 19 M because instead of being divided as dividends, the profit had stayed within the company. The charges against Tsonev include the wrongful use of budget funds and violations of the Budget Act and other acts. The Prosecutor's Office says that Tsonev has violated a decree of the Council of Ministers and the Code of the State's Rights in Companies with State Capital. If proven guilty, Tsonev would face up to 3 years behind bars.
In addition to these three charges, the Prosecutor’s Office has resumed an investigation of Tsonev for his work as the Director of Public Procurement Management Directorate at the Ministry of Defense in 1999-2000. The prosecutors have started 36 pre-court procedures for deals with properties owned by the Defense Ministry.
Bulgaria Defense Minister Sees Conditions for Corruption in Public Procurement
Since taking office in July, Bulgaria’s new Defense Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, has made it clear that a minor “loophole” in the Public Procurement Act allowed large-scale violations. It allows picking companies for Defense Ministry orders without the proper competition procedures. Thus, a number of tenders for the delivery of items from bullet-proof vests to computers were “won” by companies picked directly by the former Ministry officials, which generated corruption. Mladenov has made it clear his main priority is to change the Defense laws in the country, which are "open to corruption." He slammed the former team of the Defense Ministry saying the Ministry had been turned into something like a construction firm in the recent years, and that his main job would be restore the institution's focus on defense affairs.
Staggering Budget Deficit at Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry
In October, Defense Minister Mladenov together with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov have revealed that the Ministry faced a staggering deficit blaming it on the wasteful policies of the former government which “squandered” millions. At the beginning of the October, the Ministry had only BGN 1 000 in its bank account. Despite these issues, Borisov has vowed not to let the Bulgarian Army “wane”.
Afghanistan and Other Military Missions Abroad
Bulgaria Boosts Troop Numbers in Afghanistan, Mission to Be Consolidated in Kandahar
All throughout 2009, Bulgaria retained its commitment to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF). Bulgaria currently has 460 troops located in the Afghan cities in Kabul and Kandahar.
At the very end of the year, shortly before Christmas, Bulgaria’s Defense Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, informed the commanding officers in Kabul and Kandahar that the country's contingent would be consolidated in Kandahar in 2010. The consolidation in the southern city where the Bulgarians will be guarding the Kandahar Airport is not going to happen until later in 2010.
Mladenov also announced about 100 additional Bulgarian troops could be added with 20-30 sent to Afghanistan at the beginning of 2010, and another 70 – by the end of next year. He has pointed out the consolidation of Bulgarian forces in Kandahar would increase the importance of the Bulgarian forces in the Afghanistan mission and reduce the expenses of maintaining the contingent.
At the end of 2009, Mladenov received reports from the commanding officers in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, all praising the actions of the Bulgarian foreign military missions.
5 Bulgarian Officers Join EU Afghanistan Police Mission
In December, the Defense Ministry announced it was sending 5 officers to assist the EU police mission in Afghanistan. The Bulgarian military police will be payed by the Ministry and will receive EUR 82 for daily expenses from the EU budget for defense and security. The goal of the EUPOL in Afghanistan is to assist the Afghani government in building a police force respecting human rights and in reforming the Kabul Ministries of Interior and Justice. The mission, launched in June 2007 as an upgrade of a German pilot project has a budget of EUR 64 M. It was planned that 400 policemen would be recruited for it from the EU but it recruited only 287 in 2009.
Bulgaria Defense Minister Recommends Radically New Afghanistan Strategy
In November, Bulgaria’s Defense Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, recommended that NATO’s international forces in Afghanistan needed a radically new strategy in Afghanistan if they were to succeed there. Mladenov believes the change of NATO’s military strategy in Afghanistan will have to be accompanied with a radical change in the strategy of supporting local institutions by coordinating the messages to the central government in Kabul, and the local authorities. At the meeting in which EU Foreign and Defense Ministers discussed improving the coordination between NATO and EU in Afghanistan with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Bulgaria’s Defense Minister has expressed support for the crafting of a EU Directive on defense public procurement, and requested that the European Defense Agency distribute a list of common terminology so that all parties could be on the same page.
Bulgaria Remembers 13 Soldiers Killed in Iraq
On December 18, a mass was served in Sofia for the thirteen Bulgarian soldiers, who have been killed in Iraq, where the country's troops have been stationed in crucial central provinces around Shia holy towns including Karbala. On December 27, 2003, five Bulgarians were killed in a terrorist attack on the India Base in Karbala, when one of four suicide bombers gained entry to a Bulgarian camp, cutting through roadblocks in a car and destroying a building where the headquarters of the unit was located. Two more Bulgarian soldiers were killed in 2004. Five Bulgarian rangers died in road accidents in 2005, and one was killed by "friendly" fire the same year.
Bulgaria Sends 2 Officers to Help EU Fight Somali Pirates
In late May, Bulgaria's government decided to support EU’s Atalanta Operation, the Union’s first ever naval mission, against the Somali pirates by sending two navy officers. Bulgaria notified the operational headquarters of the mission in Northwood near London that it could not commit greater resources to the mission such as sending naval vessels. In 2009, the EU decided to prolong Operation Atalanta, which was supposed to expire at the end of 2009, as well as to expand its geographical coverage as far as the Seychelles.
Bulgaria Gets 2 Second-Hand Frigates from Belgium
In March, Bulgaria received two second-hand frigates from Belgium. The naming of the two frigates "Verni" ("Faithful") and "Gordi" ("Proud") took place in Burgas. The transfer of the two second-hand vessels was part of a deal for over EUR 50 M under which Bulgaria got from Belgium two used frigates and one used minesweeper. The second frigate "Verni", known in the Belgian Navy as F910 Wielingen, and the minesweeper M922 Myosotis ("Forget-me-not"), which has been renamed to "Tsibar" arrived to Burgas in March after setting off from the Belgian naval base at Zeebrugge on February 12 with their Bulgarian crews. The transfer from the North See to the Black See was the first of its kind in the history of the Bulgarian Navy, whose activities are usually confined to the Black See, and, occasionally, to the Mediterranean. The Bulgarian crews of the two ships went to Belgium in September 2008 in order to be fully trained to use them. Their work organization and training are completely according to NATO's standards. The Belgian frigate F910 Wielingen, now renamed "Verni", was launched in 1976, and was decommissioned in 2007. In 1990-1991, it took part in the UN maritime embargo against Iraq - Operation Southern Breeze during the First Gulf War.
Bulgaria Takes over Black Sea Naval Cooperation Force
In April, Bulgaria's city of Burgas welcomed military vessels of five Black Sea states as part of BLACKSEAFOR, a multinational naval on-call peace task force. The Bulgarian frigate "Smeli" ("Brave"), the Russian ship "Azov", the Turkish "Fatih", the Ukrainian "Slavutich", and the Romanian "Eustatiu Sebastian" all arrived in Burgas as part of the Black Sea Naval Cooperation Task Group (BLACKSEAFOR). Bulgaria assumed the rotating command of the BLACKSEAFOR fleet in August 2009. The "Black Sea Naval Co-Operation Task Group-BLACKSEAFOR" has been initiated by Turkey at the second Chiefs of the Black Sea Navies (CBSN) meeting which was held in Varna, Bulgaria, in 1998. BLACKSEAFOR aims to enhance peace and stability in the Black Sea area by increasing regional cooperation.
Bulgarian Navy with New Commander-in-Chief
In July 2009, the new Commander-in-Chief of the Bulgarian Navy, Rear Admiral Plamen Manushev, was inaugurated at a ceremony in the Black Sea city of Varna. Manushev replaced Vice Admiral Minko Kavaldzhiev, who was in charge of the Navy for five years. He vowed to offer the officers under his command a fair attitude and a lot of work. The outgoing commander, Kavaldzhiev, said the greatest achievements of his term were the creation of a new organization for fast reaction within the Navy headquarters, and the crafting of a number of new founding documents for the modernization of the Bulgarian Navy. During the inauguration ceremony, the new Head of the Defense (formerly "head of the general staff of the army), General Simeon Simeonov, said that the Navy was due to receive six new Panther helicopters by 2011. The six Panthers are part of a deal for the modernization of the Bulgarian Army, which also includes 12 Cougar helicopters that are to join the Bulgarian Air Force.
Bulgarian Navy Celebrates Its 130th Birthday
On August 9, the Bulgarian Navy celebrated the 130th year since its creation at a special ceremony in the Black Sea city of Varna. The celebration ceremonies were attended by the Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, the Defense Minister Nikolay Mladenov, the Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the Head of Defense (formerly known as Head of the General Staff of the Army) Gen. Simeon Simeonov, and were commanded by the recently appointed new head of the Bulgarian Navy, Rear Admiral Plamen Manushev.
Bulgaria PM Cancels French Corvettes Deal over Lack of Money
In October, during his first formal visit to Paris, the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, met with his French counterpart, Francois Fillon, and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, canceling the problematic “corvettes deal“.
The French company “Armaris” planned to sell to Bulgaria 2 corvettes for BGN 1 B (initially 4 corvettes for BGN 2 B), a deal that was blessed by Bulgaria's former government. Sarkozy first put on the table the corvettes' purchase in 2007 when he visited Sofia after his diplomatic triumph with the release of the Bulgarian medics jailed in Libya. The talks were renewed during a visit to Paris of former PM, Sergey Stanishev, when the number of the vessels was reduced from four to two over economic hardship endured by Bulgaria. Borisov said he expected a stronger reaction on the part of the French PM and was pleased with Fillon's understanding. He blamed the Socialist government of his predecessor for planning to go ahead with a deal which was totally unfeasible in a time of emerging budget deficit and financial crisis. The French PM is quoted as saying that both countries are part of a larger European family and he understood and accepted Bulgaria's hardships.
Bulgarian Air Force
Bulgaria Needs New Fighter Jets, Trains New Pilots
In October, Defense Minister Mladenov said Bulgaria needed new multirole fighter jets, and that this would be a priority of the Defense Ministry. He expressed his surprise that none of the previous governments had not started procedures for buying new fighters, when they new that the flight capability of the ones the army had would expire in 2012-2014.
In August, Major General Valentin Popov, head of the training flights department of the Bulgarian Air Force, announced Bulgaria was starting the training of a new squadron of pilots of MiG-29 fighter planes. 6 pilots are trained at the Graf Ignatievo Air Base, and another 6 - at the Bezmer Air Base. Thus, for the first time in ten years, Bulgaria will train a new polot squadron. The training was completed by the end of the year.
Bulgaria Govt Grants Use of Military Planes for Health Emergencies
Bulgaria's government has authorized the use of planes and helicopters of the Ministry of Defense for health emergencies. The beneficiaries are the Interior Ministry and the Health Ministry; they will be required to envisage funds in their budget in advance in order to be able to pay for the service in accordance with the estimates of the Defense Ministry.
Bulgarian Army Scraps Russian Arms, Goes Western
In November, Valeri Ratchev, head of the cabinet of Defense Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, declared the Bulgarian Army was entering a phase in which it would get rid of its Russian-made weaponry, and would gradually replace it with Western arms. The replacement of Russian arms would start from the small detachments such as the Bulgarian contingents who participate in international missions abroad. However, he did not make it clear whether the Defense Ministry was planning to scrap the AK 47 “Kalashnikov” as well. He pointed out that in addition to the Russian-made arms, the Bulgarian armed forces also had German transport vehicles, Italian transport planes, Belgian frigates, helicopters from Eurocopter, and several US-made hammer and armed vehicles.
Missile Blast Exposes Poor Condition of Bulgaria Military Equipment
In September, an anti-aircraft missile exploded shortly after its launch during military drills of the Bulgarian Army near the northeast town of Shabla. The rocket exploded 50 meters up in the air a second after the launch in front of the eyes of Defense Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, and President Georgi Parvanov, who is the Bulgarian Commander-in-Chief. No one was killed or injured by the explosion but the drills had to be terminated for some time. Mladenov admitted that the accident was a proof the Bulgarian military worked with outdated equipment.
Bulgaria Welcomes Serbia, Montenegro as Full SEDM Members
In October, the annual meeting of the Ministers of Defense of South-Eastern Europe took place in Sofia. It was also attended by the Defense Ministers of the countries which have observer status – Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia. Serbia and Montenegro will become full members of the South-Eastern Europe Defense Ministerial (SEDM) process. Bulgaria took over the rotating Chairmanship of the South-Eastern Europe Defense Ministerial (SEDM) process on July 15, 2009.
Interpol Asks Bulgaria to Investigate FARC Weapons - Report
In August, Bulgaria was announced as one of the 27 countries whose weapons were found in Colombian FARC rebel encampments. According to the Colombian daily El Tiempo, the list includes arms and explosives from Bulgaria, China, Korea, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Central Europe, North Korea, US, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela among others. The newspaper claims that during 2009 the Colombian government through Interpol sent 209 requests to 27 different countries on the origin of weapons and explosives found or captured in FARC encampments.
Bulgaria Defense Ministry Sued for Discrimination against Women
In July, Bulgaria's Defense Ministry faced a suit over a measure preventing women from joining the National Guard Unit. The suit has been filed by a human rights NGO, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which believes that the measure is discriminatory. The suit is filed with the Supreme Administrative Court. The BHC insists that the Court ask the EU Court whether EU law allowed such a discriminating provision.
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