Bulgaria has joined the long list of Russia's neighbors who have accused it of violating its airspace.
Russian military aircraft have violated Bulgaria's -- and therefore NATO's -- air space four times in the past week and more than ten times over the last ten months, Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev said in a TV interview on Sunday. "Our fighter jets are ready to intercept them," Nenchev said, calling the actions a "provocation toward Bulgaria and its air force."
Bulgaria and Russia don't share a land border but both lie on the Black Sea, which has become more and more tense since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. The question of Black Sea airspace, in particular, has become a heated issue in the last few weeks, as NATO is discussing strengthening its air presence in the region, and Russia has responded by moving its top-of-the-line air defense systems to Crimea.
In response, Russia criticized Nenchev for making the allegations on TV and not through diplomatic channels, and denied that any violations had taken place.
"We could not conceal our surprise when we heard Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev saying in his speech on Nova TV that last month had seen the growing number of violations by Russian military planes, which had their ADS-B transponders off, of the Bulgarian zone of responsibility of NATO airspace," said Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov.
"First of all, we, and not only we, would like to have explanations from Mr. Minister how far away from Bulgaria’s air borders the imaginary zone of NATO airspace lies? The planes of Russian Aerospace Forces make planned regular flights over the Black Sea. Their flight routes lie in strict compliance with international rules of using the airspace over neutral waters. Besides, all the planes, which have made the flights recently, including in June, had their ADS-B transponders on," he added.
Bulgaria has taken a somewhat inconsistent approach towards the NATO-Russia tension on the Black Sea. Its prime minister, Boyko Borissov, has criticized a NATO proposal to create some sort of regular naval presence on the sea and said the sea should be "demilitarized," but then there was an open political squabble in the country over what Bulgaria's position was on the proposal. Nenchev was forced to clarify earlier this month that Bulgaria "did not have two foreign policies."