Washington DC, 15 January 2024 (TDI): The Bulgarian Minister of Defense, Todor Tagarev, arrived at the Pentagon on January 14 to discuss various bilateral and regional issues.
The US Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks warmly welcomed Bulgarian Minister of Defense Todor Tagarev. She congratulated Bulgaria on its 20th anniversary of joining NATO. Additionally, she showed gratitude for hosting over 1000 US and Allied Forces, including a multinational NATO battle group.
The Deputy Secretary highlighted Bulgaria’s unwavering commitment as a NATO ally. Additionally, she added, “Bulgaria’s contributions are helping to ensure the security of NATO’s Eastern Flank.”
During their meeting, both leaders condemned Russia’s unjustifiable war of aggression on Ukraine. Minister Tagarev reaffirmed Bulgaria’s staunch support for Ukraine.
Moreover, the meeting discussed Bulgaria’s defense modernization priorities and commitment to spending over 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense.
In response, the Deputy Secretary applauded Bulgaria’s recent defense investments. In addition, NATO-interoperable military equipment. The recent procurement of Stryker combat vehicles and F-16 fighter aircraft was praised.
Reportedly, in 2023, Bulgarian Defense Minister Todor Tagarev said that the government aims at negotiating a lower price in the potential deal to buy 183 Stryker combat vehicles from the United States. The price published by the US government is estimated at $1.5 billion. The American side’s potential sale has been approved by both the Pentagon and the State Department, yet it still needs to reach Congress for a final decision this.
According to reports, the deal is about 183 armored vehicles and additional weapons, communication equipment, and transport equipment. The estimated maximum value is 1 billion and 500 million dollars.
Reportedly, modernization aims to bring the country in alignment with NATO standards. The Stryker is a family of eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicles produced by General Dynamic Land Systems (GD.N) based in Canada. They manufacture transport infantry, different weapons, engineering, and electronic systems for the Pentagon-US military.
Currently, a total of 7 countries operate Stryker-based vehicles including Ukraine, which has received 189 of them since March 2023.
Bulgaria will soon boast a Regional Center dedicated to servicing and maintaining Stryker vehicles, as declared by Defense Minister Tagarev. He further disclosed that the country will also participate in the production of these machines.
Signing the contract promptly would trigger a compressed delivery schedule, potentially beginning in the quarter of 2025 and concluding by early 2028.
Moreover, the deal was previously stalled for nearly a decade. There was massive opposition by pro-Russian party leader Vazraazhdane Kostadin Kostadinov.
NATO-Multinational Battle Group
According to reports, in 2019, Bulgaria and the US combined forces for joint training. The US Secretary Austin III thanked Bulgaria for taking in 80,000 refugees as a result of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine.
“The US agreement for a Stryker deal will contribute to this battle group and sends a strong signal to other NATO allies for helping boost Bulgaria’s military forces,” said Austin.
In response, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said, “Unfortunately, there is now not a single country that can live with the illusion that they are safe and secure since the Russian invasion began.”
Tagarev reiterated that Bulgaria will accelerate its efforts to establish heavy mechanized brigades and projects. Moreover, to guarantee security in the Black Sea. The project has been in preparation for years and is vital to the protection of Bulgarian airspace and for the utilization of the newly purchased F-16 Block 70 fighters.
However, in contrast to other NATO allies, Bulgaria has intensified its modernization projects in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Lastly, Bulgaria concluded a deal for over $2.1 billion for the purchase of the fighter jets.