Bulgaria’s Changing Security Paradigm Regarding the Russia-Ukraine War

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Bulgaria, one of the former Eastern Bloc countries, has been one of Russia’s closest allies throughout history. In the historical process, Sofia has attracted attention as one of Moscow’s most important partners, especially in the Balkans. Despite all, Bulgaria has become one of the states where Russia’s relations have deteriorated significantly during the process that started with the Russia-Ukraine War on February 24, 2022.

Bulgaria and Russia have much in common in terms of history, culture and religion. Bulgaria is separating from the former Soviet satellite states with which Russia has bad relations in the current process. Namely, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) did not leave in Bulgaria the painful memories it left in countries such as Poland and Hungary.

As can be understood, Bulgaria is different from many states that gained their independence within the USSR. During the period of the Russian Empire, Moscow played an important role in the independence process of Bulgaria and played an important role in the nation-consciousness of this country. Moreover, these two peoples have established a strong bond of affection between them for centuries under the influence of being Slavic and Orthodox. In this context, even after the dissolution of the USSR, close relations between the parties continued to a certain extent. However, the war is important in that it symbolizes a breaking point between the two countries.

Sofia has been one of the countries in the Balkans that have reacted the most to the war. So much so that with the process, the relations between the parties have become more tense than ever in history. During the tenure of former Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, Sofia participated in sanctions against Moscow, as a result of which Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Bulgaria in April 2022. This situation has left Bulgaria, which is heavily dependent on Russia for energy, in a very difficult situation.

On the other hand, the fact that Bulgaria, which has been considered one of Russia’s traditional allies throughout history, has joined the sanctions against Moscow and has taken actions that expel Russian diplomats from its country is very remarkable in terms of showing Moscow’s diminishing influence on Sofia.

In addition to all this, Bulgaria has displayed an image within the West that refrains from providing arms to Ukraine by pursuing a policy of balance to a certain extent. However, on November 3, 2022, the Bulgarian Parliament decided to send weapons to Ukraine. In the 240-member parliament, 175 deputies approved the aid to Kyiv, while 49 deputies opposed it.[1]

On the other hand, the positioning of the political parties in Bulgaria towards the decision taken by the parliament is extremely important. The Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) was the party that proposed to send arms to Ukraine and was thus accepted as the architect of the aid. The We Continue to Change (PP) Party, co-chaired by former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, and its closest ally, Democratic Bulgaria (DB), have also supported the aid. In particular, the PP and DB do not agree to a coalition with GERB in any way because they are uncomfortable with the policies pursued by GERB’s leader, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, during his Premiership. However, the fact that the three parties met on a common ground on Ukraine was a remarkable development.

On the other hand, with the decision taken by the Bulgarian Parliament on December 9, 2022, Sofia provided arms to Kyiv for the first time. However, the list of weapons remains secret. Bulgarian government officials, however, have indicated that Sofia will mainly send light weapons and ammunition.[2] Until this aid, Bulgaria was one of only two countries in the European Union (EU) that did not send weapons to Ukraine along with Hungary. Thus, Sofia, in a way, has now got rid of this label. In addition to all this, the weapons to be sent to Kyiv are symbolic rather than weapons that will change the course of the war. On the other hand, this situation is extremely important in terms of symbolizing Bulgaria’s changing security paradigm for the war.

In addition, the approval of sending arms aid to Ukraine in accordance with GERB’s proposal has caused great debate in the Bulgarian Parliament. Although the aid passed overwhelmingly in parliament, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Revival (Vazrazhdane) party in particular reacted strongly to the decision. On December 20, 2022, BSP leader Kornelia Nineveh stated that her party would appeal to the Constitutional Court if President Rumen Radev did not veto weapons to be sent to Kyiv.[3] What these two parties have in common is that they are pro-Russian. In this context, the BSP and Revival continue their initiatives to prevent arms aid to Ukraine in the post-parliamentary process.

On the other hand, on December 23, 2022, the President of Bulgaria made the following statement:[4]

Unfortunately, the warmongers in parliament decided on military aid to Ukraine by an overwhelming majority. Thus, they obliged the Caretaker government to conclude a contract with Ukraine for such assistance.

As can be seen, Radev is positioned against arms aid to Kyiv. Therefore, it can be interpreted that the Bulgarian President avoids the escalation of relations with Russia. In this context, it can be said that there are three fronts in Bulgaria. These are the Parliament, the Caretaker Government and the President. In Parliament, GERB, PP and DB are the parties that are the architects of arms aid to Kyiv. What all three parties have in common is that they are pro “Western.” These parties advocate that Sofia act in full harmony with international organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the EU.

On the other hand, the caretaker government in Bulgaria, which took office in August 2022, has followed a rather “neutral” policy regarding the war in Ukraine. The caretaker government was careful not to confront Moscow directly, especially until the Bulgarian Parliament decided. Moreover, the caretaker government has even held talks to supply natural gas from Russia. It can therefore be argued that the caretaker government was forced to reluctantly accept arms aid to Ukraine.

The third front is represented by the President of Bulgaria. Radev came to prominence especially because of the lack of a stable government in the country and political instabilities. In addition to all this, the President of Bulgaria is known as a former pro-Moscow soldier. Therefore, it is possible to say that Radev’s refusal to accept this aid is not a surprise development.

Consequently, the decision taken by the Bulgarian Parliament is important in many respects. The first is that with Bulgaria providing arms to Ukraine, Hungary remains the only country in the EU that does not provide arms to Kyiv. Therefore, Sofia has been gotten rid of this label. However, it is a question mark whether the weapons that Bulgaria will send to Ukraine will affect the course of the war. Guns stand out more as light weapons and ammunition. Despite all this, the fact that Sofia, once Moscow’s closest ally in the Balkans, has taken such an initiative is very remarkable in that it shows the level of tension between the two countries.

[1] “In U-turn, Bulgarian parliament tells Sofia to send weapons to Ukraine”, Politico,, (Date of Accession: 25.12.2022).

[2] “Bulgaria to Send Its First Military Aid to Ukraine”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 25.12.2022).

[3] “Leader of the Bulgarian Socialists: If the President Doesn’t Veto the Arms for Ukraine, We Will Appeal to the Constitutional Court”, Novinite,, (Date of Accession: 25.12.2022).

[4] “Bulgaria’s President: The Warmongers in Parliament Approved Military Aid for Ukraine”, Novinite,, (Date of Accession: 25.12.2022).

Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege Özkan, 2019 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2022 senesinde aynı üniversitenin Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Türk Siyasi Hayatında Selim Rauf Sarper ve Faaliyetleri” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Hâlihazırda aynı enstitüde doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. 2020-2021 yılları arasında Türk Tarih Kurumu Yüksek Lisans Bursiyeri olan Özkan, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.