Last spring, in the midst of resistance to the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian army was in dire need of fuel and ammunition. Help came from an unexpected ally: Bulgaria. The poorest country in the EU can count on a significant reserve of weapons bequeathed by the Soviet Union, the same weapons that Kyiv soldiers are trained to use. But at the same time, the Bulgarian population is the one that has shown the greatest resistance to supporting Ukraine in Europe. Widespread pro-Moscow sentiment used in the early months of the war by opposition parties (but also by sections of the majority) to overthrow the government of pro-Western Kiril Petkov. Who, prior to their resignation, established a system for the clandestine arrival of supplies that proved essential in repelling the Russian onslaught.
The covert operation
The secret was kept for months, only today the German daily newspaper Welt reconstructed the excited maneuvers of the former prime minister and part of his executive to help Kyiv. Including the use of a refinery, which at that time still belonged to the Russian Lukoil and was supplied by tankers from Moscow. We are in April 2022, the war lasted almost two months and Ukraine was increasingly short of ammunition, while the weapons promised by the West were slow to arrive. Kyiv knew that there were important military stocks in Bulgaria, especially those of Soviet production that could be delivered quickly, but it also knew that Petkov faced a complicated political situation and accusations that he had exposed his country to Vladimir Putin’s vengeance.
On April 19, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba traveled to Sofia. Shortly thereafter, the government in Sofia authorized the Bulgarian military industry to export arms, not directly to Ukraine, but to intermediary companies abroad. In this way, Petkov avoided direct collusion between his executive and that of Kyiv. According to Welt, the US and UK paid for the supplies. “We estimate that about a third of the ammunition needed by the Ukrainian army in the first phase of the war came from Bulgaria,” Petkov told Die Welt.
The hoax of Russian oil
Another important strategy was the one developed to bring huge amounts of diesel into Ukraine. The solution was a joke for Moscow: Bulgari has a refinery near Burgas on the Black Sea, which is managed by a subsidiary of the Russian group Lukoil and supplied by Russian tankers. Former Finance Minister Assen Vasilev had been informed that the Ukrainian army was running out of fuel supplies and secretly met with plant managers and employees, who accepted the proposal: to send the excess diesel to Ukraine through intermediaries. “Trucks and tankers drove regularly to the Ukraine via Romania, and some fuel was also loaded onto freight trains,” says Vassilev. “Ukraine”. Today the refinery no longer belongs to Lukoil.
If Petkov’s and Vasilev’s moves were carried out in great secrecy, their pro-Western positions were known. On April 27, Gazprom chose Bulgaria as the first EU country to halt gas exports. But within 24 hours, Petkov received the delivery of two tankers with liquefied natural gas from the United States at the same price per cubic meter as that bought by Gazprom. Despite this, opposition to the former prime minister continued to grow, and over the summer his government was discouraged by parliament. “Since then, the country has been in a political stalemate, but the attitude towards Ukraine has changed slightly – writes Politico – In December, the parliament decided to officially allow arms sales to Ukraine.” Petkov and Vasilev “want to stand again in the upcoming elections and continue their fight for a Bulgaria that will tackle the old order’s corruption and take a more Western path.” For Petkov, one thing is irreversible: “We have shown that a world without dependency and fear of Russia is possible.”