Bulgaria secretly supplied fuel and ammunition to Ukraine in first months of war – The Guardian

Bulgaria, one of the poorest EU members and long perceived as pro-Moscow, helped Ukraine survive Russia’s early onslaught by secretly supplying it with large quantities of much-needed diesel and ammunition, officials said.

Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Finance Minister Assen Vasilyov said their country supplied 30% of the Soviet-caliber ammunition needed by the Ukrainian army during a crucial three-month period last spring, and at times 40% of the diesel.

The men, who are now in opposition, along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, in interviews with Die Welt, described the remarkable operation of the small Balkan state, which officially rejects all requests to arm Ukraine.

“Kiril Petkov has shown his integrity and I will always be grateful to him for using all his political skill to find a solution,” Kuleba told the German newspaper, adding that the Bulgarian leader “decided on to be on the right side of history and help us defend ourselves against a much stronger enemy”.

Petkov had to act covertly because of openly pro-Kremlin sympathies among many in Bulgaria’s political class, including its socialist coalition partners. Days after the start of the so-called Russian special operation in Ukraine on February 24, he fired his defense minister, who refused to call the invasion an act of war.

In December, people in Sofia, Bulgaria, take part in a demonstration in support of Russia.In December, people in Sofia, Bulgaria, take part in a demonstration in support of Russia. Photo: Spasiyana Sergieva/Portal

Meanwhile, polls showed that more than 70% of Bulgarians feared being drawn into the conflict and opposed arms sales to Ukraine, even though their country had large stocks of Soviet-caliber weapons and ammunition that Kyiv badly needed.

According to Kuleba, arms shipments began in mid-April after he visited Sofia. Ukraine had repelled Russia’s initial attack on Kyiv, but supplies were dangerously low, as many Western supplies were not yet underway and Soviet caliber ammunition was particularly needed.

“So we knew that Bulgaria had large quantities of the ammunition needed [I was sent to] get the necessary materials,” Kuleba told the world. He said it was a matter of “life and death,” adding that Petkov replied that while his domestic political situation was “not easy,” he would do “everything in his power.”

Sofia did not supply Ukraine directly, but allowed Bulgarian intermediaries to sell to their counterparts in Ukraine or NATO member states, and kept open its air connections with Poland and land routes via Romania and Hungary, Petkov told the newspaper. Many deliveries were ultimately paid for by the United States and Great Britain, said Die Welt without citing a source.

The fuel that Bulgaria shipped to Ukraine was made from Russian crude oil at a refinery near Burgas operated by the Russian company Lukoil.The fuel that Bulgaria shipped to Ukraine was made from Russian crude oil at a refinery near Burgas operated by the Russian company Lukoil. Photo: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Even greater secrecy lay around diesel exports, again through international intermediaries. They were particularly sensitive because the fuel Bulgaria shipped to Ukraine was made from Russian crude oil at a refinery near Burgas on the Black Sea, run by the Russian company Lukoil.

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“Trucks and tankers regularly went to Ukraine via Romania, and in some cases the fuel was also loaded onto freight trains,” Vasilev said. “Bulgaria became one of the largest diesel suppliers to Ukraine,” he added, exporting about half of the Burgas refinery’s output. Kuleba confirmed the deliveries and said they came “at a critical time”.

Moscow retaliated with devastating cyber attacks and a secret service attack (70 Russian diplomats were expelled for espionage between March and June last year) and by cutting off gas supplies to heavily dependent Bulgaria as early as April 27.

But Petkov said he solved a looming energy crisis by arranging two tankers of liquefied natural gas from the US, and made it clear to Washington that the shipment was “a political signal to all of Europe that there are always ways out of dependence on.” to get out of Russia”. .

In June, his government fell after a no-confidence vote. In December, the Bulgarian parliament voted to officially authorize arms sales to Ukraine. Since the beginning of this year, the Lukoil refinery has been fully controlled from Bulgaria and is trying to import crude oil from other countries.

Petkov and Vassilev said their anti-corruption party We Continue the Change will be running in parliamentary elections – the country’s fifth in two years – expected to be held this spring. Regardless of the outcome, Petkov said they showed that a “world free of dependency on and fear of Russia” is possible.