Bulgaria’s parliament has voted for Bulgarian factories to repair Ukraine’s military equipment and allow Ukraine to use its port of Varna, after Bulgarian PM Kiril Petkov met Ukraine’s President in Kyiv.

Bulgaria to Repair Ukraine’s Military Equipment, Despite Internal Tensions

Prime Minister Kiril Petkov speaks at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, April 28 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

Bulgaria’s parliament voted on Wednesday to repair Ukraine’s heavy military equipment as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested.

In this way, Bulgaria has increased its role in the war in Ukraine, on Ukraine’s side, but without sending ammunition to the Ukrainian army – which would worsen internal divisions between pro-EU and the pro-Russian parties in Bulgaria’s coalition government.

The ruling coalition includes the pro-Russian Bulgarian Socialist Party as well as the pro-EU “We Continue the Change”, Democratic Bulgaria and “There’s Such a People” parties.

During his April 28 meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov agreed that Bulgarian factories would repair Ukraine’s heavy military and that its port of Varna would become a hub for Ukraine’s grain exports.

Sending ammunition to Ukraine was, surprisingly, not discussed between the two leaders.

Bulgaria and Hungary are the only two members of the European Union to have made only modest contributions to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. 

Until the vote on Wednesday, Bulgaria had sent Ukraine only humanitarian aid, protective helmets and jackets. It recently initiated a fundraiser, which caused mixed reactions for the way it was announced. Various protests have meanwhile called for a more supportive reaction from Bulgaria. 

Of 217 MPs in the chamber, 200 were in favour, one MP abstained and 16 were against, most from the pro-Kremlin far-right party Revival (Vazrazhdane) party, which gained popularity with its COVID-19 denialist stance in 2021. Revival has threatened with protests.

The vote is expected to cause more divisions in parliament. 

The Socialist Party has threatened to leave the coalition if ammunition is sent to Ukraine despite reports that Bulgaria is already selling Kyiv weapons through third countries under the nose of Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova, the Minister of Economy. The conflicts within the coalition have fuelled speculation on whether the reformist coalition will finish its mandate. 

President Rumen Radev, who ran twice as an independent candidate but was supported by the Socialists and who has made pro-Russian statements, has also criticized talk of military aid.

In recent days, he has hardened his words. “It’s our patriotic duty not to be part of this war. Every call for military interference is a call for bloodshed,” Radev said on May 1. Previously, the new Defence Minister, Dragomir Zakov, also voiced concerns about Bulgaria sending Ukraine ammunition.

Boyko Borissov’s former ruling GERB party has meanwhile questioned whether repairing Ukraine’s military is even technologically possible. 

After expressing support for the Ukrainian army before, PM Petkov and Deputy PM Assen Vassilev’s tone toughened after Russia cut off Bulgaria’s gas supply and after Petkov met Zelensky.

“It’s a different feeling when you see with your own eyes three rockets flying 200 meters from you; it’s madness to feel safe in that situation,” Petkov said on May 2 during a TV interview after returning from his meeting with Zelensky on April 28.

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