Purchase of new fighter jets by Bulgaria pits President against Prime Minister

From left to right: Rumen Radev, Boyko Borissov, Krassimir Karakachanov. [bgnes]

Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev slammed on Sunday (6 January) the government of Boyko Borissov for having “perverted” the procedure for the acquisition of new fighter jets.

Bulgaria wants to buy eight fighter jets to replace its ageing Soviet-designed MiG-29s, in a tender estimated at 1.8 billion levs (€900 million). The United States offered two options: either new Lockheed Martin F-16V jets or new Boeing F-18 Super Hornets. Sweden offered new Saab Gripen jets, while Italy proposed supplying second-hand Eurofighters.

Speaking to journalists at the last EU summit, Borissov made it clear that he had made his choice in favour of F-16.

Bulgarian PM: Pilots tell me F-16 is best

Bulgaria needs a plane capable not only of patrolling, but conducting combat operations and winning, and that means buying F-16s, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told journalists on Friday (14 December), adding that he didn’t want to influence an ongoing tender in the country.

On 21 December, it was announced that the government will propose to the Parliament the country to buy the F-16 Block 72 ‘Viper’ to be built by Lockheed Martin.

The Swedish company Saab criticised the decision, saying that the Bulgarian side had “changed the rules of the game” and that in making its choice for F-16, it did not take into account four out of seven criteria of the tender.

Krassimira Stoyanova, Vice President of Saab for Central and Eastern Europe, said on national TV on 23 December that the version of F-16 chosen by Bulgaria does not even exist, and that even the plant where they would be produced doesn’t exist either. She also claimed that the cost for the US planes would be significantly higher than the ceiling required by the tender.

Radev, who was a military pilot and head of the Bulgarian air force before being elected as president in November 2016, has gained prominence in criticising Borissov on many issues. Asked on Sunday to comment the government’s decision to buy F-16, he called the procedure “perverted” and said it was a “triple blow against Bulgaria”.

“I insisted that the [tender] procedure and financial framework be respected, which guarantees the best choice, no matter which aircraft it would be. The government did the opposite – they announced the winner in breach of their own rules and those of the Parliament, and even committed to pay an enormous amount”, Radev said.

He said that all this amounted to a “triple blow”, because of the higher price, but also because of “the blow against our European partners, which the government uses as figurants in the tender”, adding that the blow was also against the US partners, who in his words should realise that Bulgarians know that they won via lobbyism, not according to the rules.

“How can we expect winning the respect of Europe and the world, if we don’t respect our own laws and rules”, Radev asked a rhetoric question.

The defence minister Krassimir Karakachanov was quoted as saying that the cabinet will start negotiations with the US, and if those are not satisfactory, the effort could continue with the next competitor.

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