Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly asked the Bulgarian government to explain its stance on participating in the US missile-defence system. If Bulgaria takes part, it would host short- and mid-range ground-to-air missiles and radar stations. Russia considers this a threat to its national security, despite US assurances that the system’s sole purpose is to monitor Iranian missile activity. However, elements of the system will be set up in Northern and Southeastern Europe, raising suspicion that it will be used to weaken Russia’s retaliation capacity and alter the current balance of power.
Lavrov was reacting to media reports that US Ambassador to Bulgaria James B. Warlick said Bulgaria “had expressed an interest in participating in the missile-defence system.” His actual words were: “This missile defence architecture will feature deployments of increasingly-capable sea - and land-based missile interceptors and a range of sensors in Europe to defend against growing ballistic missile threats. We plan to deploy elements in northern and southern Europe and will consult closely with Bulgaria and NATO allies on the specific deployment options.”
PM Borisov replied that the decision was not only his to make, deferring to Bulgaria’s Parliament as well as European partner states. “When our state is a NATO member we have to work for the collective security,” the premier said, referring to the ballistic missile threat from Iran.
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
Borisov’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev, faced the same dilemma over hosting US missiles, but decided to put it on the back burner. That is probably why the US ambassador is adamant about getting a straight answer. Borisov is right that Bulgaria, as a NATO member, has an obligation to participate in collective defense structures. Still, he needs time to weigh the pros and cons before giving a definite answer. The US encountered serious difficulties in positioning military equipment in Poland and Czech Republic.
Romania announced its participation in the US missile defence program on February 4. Afterwards, authorities in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, a Russian client statelet, announced that they are ready to set up mobile-bunker penetrating Iskander missiles with effective range of 450 km.
PM Borisov will try to delay his decision for as long as possible. He then faces the tough challenge of explaining it to his Russian counterparts. The consequences could be dire, since Russia controls most of the gas supplies to the Balkans and Central Eastern Europe. We do not expect that new US military facilities will enflame popular tensions within Bulgaria, since the US already has a military training camp in the country.