The prosecutor’s office revealed yesterday that two Russian diplomats carried out intelligence activities on the territory of Bulgaria.
According to Bulgarian news agency, it is about the deputy trade attachés at the Moscow representation in Sofia – Sergei Nikolashin and Vadim Bikov.
It is also clear from the information of the prosecutor’s office that the unregulated activity of the “sales representatives” has been carried out since 2016. At that time only Nikolashin was in Bulgaria, while Bikov arrived in Bulgaria last year. This clearly shows that although the Bulgarian authorities have taken radical measures, the Russian side in no way gives up its attempts to influence the processes in our country and especially on the Euro-Atlantic orientation of Bulgaria, and hence the Balkans.
This is evidenced by the evidence gathered against the two, whose activity can be summarized in three directions. All related to defense and our military industry.
It was established that Nikolashin and Bikov were looking for classified information about the plans for the modernization of the armed forces. Undoubtedly, this includes information about the capabilities and capacity for the maintenance of new ones
F-16 aircraft, block 70, whose arrival is expected in a few years, as well as the intentions of our army to acquire unmanned aircraft.
The second area in which Russian intelligence has worked is identifying and contacting key MoD officials on whom public procurement depends and concluding contracts with foreign contractors. Here, in addition to the military, the Russian side also has a purely financial interest. Although Bulgaria has long been a member of NATO, our country continues to pay huge sums to Russia for the repair of old equipment.
There are many examples of incorrect implementation of contracts by the Russian side, as well as poor quality repairs. However, the long years of Russian influence and established dependencies often put the Bulgarian armed forces in a situation in which the executors of the repairs of the obsolete Soviet armaments were determined not in Sofia but in Moscow.
Particularly interesting is the third area in which Russian military intelligence has acted – the acquisition of classified information about the Bulgarian defense industry, its production capabilities and its development plans. Of strategic, political, economic and military interest for the Russian side is Bulgaria to lose its traditional markets for quality and relatively cheap products.
Bulgarian Minister of Defense Krasimir Karakachanov said that it is planned to sell MiG-29 fighters after arming F-16 Block 70 multi-role aircraft as we reported on June 9.
In 2018, Sofia ordered 8 machines of this type, and in an unspecified perspective plans to acquire the other enough to have a full squadron.
The declaration was made on June 4 during a meeting of the finance committee of the Bulgarian parliament. Minister Karakachanov stated that when 8 new machines were commissioned, there would be no need to maintain the entire current fleet of MiG-29 aircraft and some of them could be sold.
However, in order to fully withdraw these machines from service, it is necessary to acquire another 8 F-16 Block 70 aircraft. Then it would be possible to fully replace the existing fighters with a full squadron of multi-task machines.
This is important because MiGi-29 has been serviced for years in Russia for rates inadequate to the quality of the machines but also the timeliness and quality of parts delivery, which often arrived late and their documentation was incomplete. That is why it was decided to service them in Belarus.
Bulgaria theoretically has 14 MiG-29 fighters in service today. Why theoretically? Because it is realistically suitable to fly a maximum of half of them and there are no more than two aircraft in the ready state. The rest are cannibalized to keep them in the air.
The cost of 8 F-16 Block 70 multi-purpose aircraft ordered in 2018, together with service and training, is $ 1.2 billion. By the time they are brought into service, which is to take place at the turn of 2022-2023, the service of existing Bulgarian fighters is expected to cost about 90 million dollars.
So these are considerable amounts, and Sofia has planned an ambitious program of modernization of the entire armed forces, including new ships or infantry fighting vehicles. Hence, probably the declaration on the planned sale of the MiG-29s. However, their technical condition and age do not give a good chance that such a transaction, if successful, will bring significant income.
It is equally unlikely that Bulgaria will be able to order another 8 multipurpose aircraft in the near future. Both for political and purely economic reasons.
8 aircraft ordered in 2018 are the absolute minimum required to simultaneously patrol their own airspace and meet their alliance commitments to participate in NATO missions.