Sofia, February 3, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said on February 3 that he had the feeling that the rumours that his country was preparing for war emanated from Russia.
Far-right minority Ataka party leader Volen Siderov insisted in Parliament a few days earlier that the country was “secretly mobilising”. Siderov, who has tended to be consistently pro-Kremlin, has been claiming that the United States and Nato are taking Bulgaria into a forthcoming “war with Russia”.
On the same day that Siderov made the claims in the National Assembly, there were rapid denials by Bulgaria’s Defence Minister, and on February 1, the head of the country’s armed forces repeated the denials.
On February 3, speaking to local television station Nova Televizia, Nenchev – in office in the defence portfolio since the current centre-right coalition cabinet came to power in November 2014 – dismissed talk of mobilisation as “speculation”.
“The sources of this information are the same. The people who are creating the hysteria are the same. There is an information propaganda centre that wants to create panic among the people. This misinformation has gone beyond the pale,” Nenchev said.
He said that the country’s defence ministry was carrying out a routine regular update of its military reserve.
“That is not a call-up. We send a letter to the person, to check whether they are still in Bulgaria, whether they are in good health, and whether they are on maternity leave – because in the Bulgarian army, there are women.”
He said that the routine checks on the state of the reserves covered about 3000 people.
Asked about talk of a Nato base in Bulgaria, Nenchev said that there would not be a base but a co-ordination centre, to be set up in Sofia. This would be staffed by about 50 military personnel, half Bulgarians and half from other Nato countries.
Nenchev also repeated denials of supposed plans for a missile centre in Shabla. Siderov had claimed that this would be used to attack Crimea (illegally annexed by Russia in 2014) from Bulgaria. “These allegations are not true,” Nenchev said.
Since the fall of the Bulgarian Socialist Party administration in August 2014, Bulgaria’s caretaker cabinet that was in office for two months and the centre-right government since then have been reasserting the country’s Euro-Atlantic orientation.
There was a flurry of controversy in August 2014 when a draft – and subsequently rewritten – defence strategy document was seen as portraying Russia as a threat to Bulgaria.
Bulgaria, a Nato member since 2004 and which for years has been facing the issue of meeting a commitment to update its fighter jet capabilities, will be replacing its Soviet-era equipment with Western-made multi-purpose fighters, although it remains unclear when this will happen.
Earlier, in January Nenchev said that Bulgaria would shift the contract for maintenance of its remaining Russian-made MiG-29 fighters from Moscow’s RSK MiG firm to a Polish firm, another move that also has irked Russia.
In past months, Russia has accused Bulgaria of “betrayal” over these military issues, while Russian leader Vladimir Putin, in announcing the shelving of the South Stream gas pipeline plan, laid the blame at Bulgaria’s door.