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Analysis – Ukraine conflict: Focus shifts to Bulgaria, as Poland and Slovakia pledge MiGs to Ukraine

With Poland and Slovakia now committed to transferring their MiG-29 fleets to Ukraine, Bulgaria (aircraft pictured) will face pressure to do the same. (Bulgarian Air Force)

With Poland and Slovakia having recently pledged to provide Ukraine with MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum' combat aircraft, focus will now shift to Bulgaria to do the same as the only other NATO operator of the type.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said on 16 March that his country would send an initial four MiG-29s to Ukraine “in the coming days” with others to be transferred later, and this was followed on 17 March by Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger also pledging 13 of his country's MiG-29s. Bulgaria, as the only other NATO country to operate the Russian-built jet, has made no pronouncements as it its intentions, although pressure will now increase for it to do the same.

Of the three countries, Bulgaria has greatest political and operational reasons to resist a transfer of its remaining MiG-29s to Ukraine. While Poland and Slovakia were arguably among the least enthusiastic Eastern Bloc satellites of Russia, and were both in the first cadre of former Warsaw Pact states to integrate their militaries into the Western world, the opposite was true of Bulgaria.

Bulgaria shares strong historical and cultural links with Russia to the extent that it was suggested the country might serve as a ‘Trojan horse' for Russian interests inside NATO on its accession to the alliance in 2004. Indeed, as recently as 2022, the Bulgarian Prime Minister at the time, Kiril Petkov, dismissed Defence Minister Stefan Yanev for his pro-Moscow rhetoric over the invasion of Ukraine.

However, despite Bulgaria's historically strong ties with Russia, the German publication Die Welt

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