Communist Bloc Military Updates: Russian Air Force probes Bulgarian airspace via Black Sea incursion, Warsaw Pact-turned-NATO member Bulgaria fails to repel intrusion, Turkish Air Force responds instead; Sofia imports 95% of natural gas from Gazprom

In recent weeks, the Russian Air Force has dispatched its Tu-22M bombers to probe NATO air defences over both the Baltic and Black Seas. Known in the West as the Backfire, the Soviet-built Tu-22M (pictured here), along with the Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack, is one of three types of strategic bomber in Moscow’s inventory.

The Tupolev Design Bureau is presently developing Russia’s first stealth bomber, but no such combat-ready aircraft is expected to fly until as late as 2025, although Russia’s first stealth fighter prototype took to the skies two years ago. In the meanwhile, the Russian Air Force is upgrading the electronics and weapons systems aboard selected Blackjack and Backfire aircraft. With the exception of the US Air Force’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, the long-range bombers flown by both countries are based on aviation technology that is anywhere from 30 to 50 years old.

Earlier this month, NATO fighter jets based in Lithuania intercepted a Tu-22M cruising through “neutral” airspace over the Baltic Sea. According to officials in the neighboring republic of Latvia, the Russian military was conducting exercises in the Kaliningrad exclave. Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks said his country had not been officially notified of the exercises, which, in any case, is “not technically required.” The former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia joined NATO in 2004.

This past Wednesday, reports the Sofia News Agency, five more Tu-22M bombers were detected 40 kilometers from Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, on the fringes of that country’s airspace. The information has been confirmed by sources in the Bulgarian Defence Ministry. Sofia, however, insisted that the Russian aircraft never actually entered its airspace. Somewhat troublingly, the Bulgarian air force did not dispatch its fighter aircraft, which are based heavily on Soviet/Russian technology, to intercept the intruders. Instead, the Turkish Air Force reportedly sent two F-16 fighters to escort the Russian bombers away from the region.

When challenged as to why no Bulgarian pilots were scrambled to intercept the Russian aircraft, the Bulgarian Defence Ministry protested: “It is up to NATO’s southern command to decide whose fighter jets would be sent in the air in similar situations.”

We have long suspected that the “former” Soviet Bloc states, where many communist-era officials still hold important posts, are “Trojan horses” in the Western Alliance. Turkey, of course, is a long-time NATO member, but Bulgaria, along with other “ex”-communist states like Romania, only joined the Western Alliance in 2004. Between 2002 and January 2012, the president of Bulgaria was “ex”-communist Georgi Parvanov. Although the country’s prime minister Boyko Borisov and new president Rosen Plevneliev do not appear to have been communists, or at least high-ranking communists, their professional careers began under the old communist regime in Sofia.

This also applies to Bulgaria’s defense minister, Anyu Angelov, who began his military career during the “People’s Republic of Bulgaria.” The Bulgarian media offers the following bio of Angelov:

Angelov started his career as Commander of an autonomous platoon, and was later appointed Department Deputy Chief at the Land Forces Air Defense Command, Chief of Staff and Brigade Commander. From 1987 to 1990 he was Land Forces Air Defense Chief of Staff, and from 1990 to 1992 he served as Land Forces Air Defense Commander in Chief. Until 1994 Angelov was Deputy Commander in Chief of the Bulgarian Land Forces, and from December 1994 to September 1997 he was Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Bulgarian Armed Forces.

The same source notes Angelov’s congenial relationship with Moscow: “Angelov has completed a postgraduate specialization course at the General Staff Academy of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Moscow and has taken a special course for officers at the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy.” However, Angelov is also an “honorable member” of NATO Defense College Alumni Association, demonstrating the extent to which the West is blind to the Soviet deception plan. On May 5 2011, reports the Bulgarian media, Angelov declared that the Balkan country “will not be hosting elements of the US and NATO missile defense system in Europe, at least for the time being.”

The Bulgarian media speculated that this week’s provocation by the Russian Air Force was connected to cooperative international naval drills involving Russia, or possibly Russia’s support for Iran and the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In early January, in a show of strength for Assad, a flotilla of Russian warships arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus, followed by two Iranian warships last week. Syria and Iran are locked into a mutual defence pact.

Pro-Russian sentiment in Bulgaria remains strong, as evidenced by the formerly ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, which is nothing other than the repackaged Bulgarian Communist Party, and a new party modelled on United Russia. In 2008, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Bulgaria in support of Moscow’s involvement in the building of Bulgaria’s much-delayed Belene nuclear power plant. Bulgaria imports 95 percent of its natural gas from the Kremlin’s Gazprom, while its only operational oil refinery, which provides more than 70 percent of the gasoline in the country, is fully owned by Russia’s Lukoil.

In view of Bulgaria’s energy dependence on Russia and the prevalence of communist-era officials in high posts, there is some doubt as to whether Sofia can offer a robust opposition to Moscow’s geopolitical moves.

2 responses to “Communist Bloc Military Updates: Russian Air Force probes Bulgarian airspace via Black Sea incursion, Warsaw Pact-turned-NATO member Bulgaria fails to repel intrusion, Turkish Air Force responds instead; Sofia imports 95% of natural gas from Gazprom

  1. mah29001 February 29, 2012 at 5:46 am

    It’s quite the obvious that the Communist bloc is looking for the West to disarm, NATO adding Russia as a member is a bad, bad idea.

  2. Dov March 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Here is another article along those lines:

    The Russians did a few profiles that would match using this new upgraded missile a year or two ago. A flight of two came down to northeast Canada, around Goose Bay, then RTB. A perfect practice for a loft run for launching long range nuclear cruise missiles off of their strategic bombers.

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