By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Bulgaria has given the final green light to a $1.67 billion package deal to purchase eight F-16 fighter multirole jets from the United States — the country’s biggest military procurement since the fall of communism in the early 1990s.
The contracts linked to the deal and amendments to Bulgaria’s 2019 Budget Act were published in the State Gazette on July 30, allowing the purchase to go ahead.
“We salute [Bulgarian] Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and the Bulgarian government on its commitment to modernize its military through the acquisition of these highly capable, NATO interoperable aircraft,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
On July 23, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev vetoed the deal, which also includes ammunition, training, and support, saying there had been insufficient debate before parliament approved it.
However, lawmakers later voted to override the veto.
Speaking during a cabinet meeting in Sofia on July 31, Borisov rejected accusations from the opposition that corruption had been involved in the purchase of the F-16s.
“No one outside Bulgaria would dare to think that the Bulgarian government and the U.S. administration have been subjected to lobbying, corruption deals, or anything of that kind,” he said.
The eight F-16 jets are expected to be delivered to Bulgaria in 2023 and 2024 to replace the Bulgarian Air Force’s fleet of Soviet-built MiG-29s.
Bulgaria, a NATO and European Union member state, currently relies on the United States and Britain to participate in joint air policing.
Earlier this month, a massive hacking attack in Bulgaria via a Russian website was thought to be linked to Sofia’s decision to buy the military jets from the United States.
Bulgaria’s National Revenue Agency’s (NRA) systems suffered the attack on July 15, with the personal financial data of some 5 million Bulgarians and foreign expatriates residing in the country being released via a Russian-based e-mail domain.
The timing of the hack, immediately after the deal was reached with the United States for the jets, prompted speculation that the two events were related.
“Organized criminal groups involved in cyberattacks usually seek financial profits, but [in this case] political motives are possible. The government decided yesterday to buy F-16 jets, and the e-mails calling for [Finance Minister Vladislav] Goranov’s resignation came from Russia. One can make a guess here,” Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Mladen Marinov said at the time.