Foreign policy and defense
Until the collapse of communism in 1989,
Bulgaria was a sound state to the Soviet Union.
Subsequently, the foreign policy goal was instead to
approach the Western powers. Bulgaria joined the US-led
NATO Alliance in 2004 and the EU in 2007.
The road to the NATO membership began in 1994 when
Bulgaria joined the NATO-NATO North Atlantic Cooperation
Council (NACC) and Partnership for Peace (PFF). The
application for NATO membership was submitted in 1997.
Bulgaria supported the NATO bombings of Serbia in
connection with the 1999 Kosovo crisis, despite the fact
that a large part of the population was opposed to the
war. Bulgaria became a full member of NATO in April
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Bulgaria for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
The application for EU membership was submitted in
1995. Weak economy, deficiencies in the justice system
and widespread corruption meant that membership
negotiations could not start until 2000, and Bulgaria
did not join the Great Eastern enlargement in 2004. The
aim was instead set in 2007. The EU placed tough demands
on reforms and occasionally the Bulgarian EU entry was
threatened by delays. The EU-criticized nuclear power
plant in Kozloduj also posed a problem in EU adaptation
(see Natural Resources and Energy). In April 2005, the
EU and Bulgaria signed the so-called Accession Treaty.
Despite several warnings from the EU Commission on
remaining shortcomings, Bulgaria was able to become a
member on 1 January 2007 (see further Modern history).
However, criticism from the EU for insufficient efforts
against corruption and organized crime has continued
even after joining the Union. Bulgaria has withdrawn EU
funds and has not been granted access to the EU Passport
Relations with Russia
Bulgaria's orientation towards the West has distanced
the country from Russia, which in particular opposed the
Bulgarian NATO membership. Until the collapse of
communism, Bulgaria was the front of the Eastern
Alliance's defense pact, the Warsaw Pact, against the
NATO countries Greece and Turkey. Now the border with
NATO moved closer in one stroke. Russia and Bulgaria
also have close historical and cultural ties, and Moscow
sees it as its right to safeguard its strategic
interests in the Black Sea.
Relations with Moscow deteriorated further in 2006,
when the United States and Bulgaria signed an agreement
to deploy about 2,500 US soldiers at four military bases
in Bulgaria. Nevertheless, in 2008 Russia and Bulgaria
were able to sign an agreement on the Russian South
Stream project, which would draw a pipeline for natural
gas from Russia, via the Black Sea and Bulgaria, to
Western Europe. Construction began in late 2012, but in
summer 2014 Bulgaria canceled its part of preparations
under pressure from the EU because of Russia's
annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the conflict in
Ukraine. In December of that year, Russia announced that
the project had been halted as a result of EU sanctions,
reduced gas prices and deteriorating Russian economy.
The unrest in Ukraine prompted NATO to decide on a
strengthened military presence in Eastern Europe, and
not least in the Black Sea region. In the spring of
2015, the government announced that a series of joint
U.S. military exercises would be held, and that the
number of U.S. soldiers in the country would increase.
Flight monitoring assistance
Due to Bulgaria's weak air defense, in early 2016
Parliament also decided to seek NATO assistance with the
monitoring of the Bulgarian airspace. In September, US
fighter aircraft participated for the first time in
aviation patrol. The increased Naton presence has caused
protests in Bulgaria, where many are friendly to Russia.
An opinion poll in the fall of 2016 showed that Bulgaria
was one of only four NATO countries where people in
common had greater confidence in Russia than in NATO.
President Rosen Plevneliev teased both Russia and
Russian-friendly compatriots when, in a speech to the
European Parliament in the summer of 2016, he accused
Moscow of hybrid warfare to undermine the EU. That same
fall, Russian-friendly former Air Force commander Rumen
Radev won the presidential election, which resulted in
the resignation of the government and a new election
announced (see Current policy).
Contact with Turkey was long characterized by
mistrust, but improved in the early 1990s when
conditions for the Turkish minority in Bulgaria
improved. In 1999, Turkish NATO soldiers were allowed to
travel through Bulgaria on their way to Kosovo. It was
the first time in 121 years that Turkish troops were in
Bulgaria's relations with Serbia during the 1990s war
in former Yugoslavia were complicated, mainly because of
Bulgaria's support for the sanctions against Serbia in
1998 and the NATO war against the province of Kosovo the
following year. The relations were then good, although
Bulgaria's recognition of Kosovo's independence in March
2008 caused irritation in Serbia. Already later that
year, Bulgaria and Serbia and Romania signed a
cooperation agreement to combat cross-border crime.
Relations with Macedonia were disturbed for a long
time by the fact that Bulgaria claimed Macedonian
territories and did not regard Macedonian as its own
language. In 1992, however, Bulgaria acknowledged the
Macedonian government, and in a historic agreement in
1999, Bulgaria renounced all territorial claims. A
compromise in the language dispute was also reached.
The decision to establish formal relations with
Macedonia created tensions in contact with Greece, which
has continued poor relations with the Macedonian nation.
However, this did not have any decisive consequences for
the continued contact between the countries. At the end
of 2012, Bulgaria and Greece jointly opposed Macedonia
by blocking the neighboring country's membership
negotiations with the EU. The Bulgarian government
blamed Macedonia for "poor neighbors" by "conducting an
anti-Bulgarian campaign and distorting historical
facts". However, the decision was criticized by three
former presidents, who considered the government
punishing ordinary Macedonians.
Conflict with Libya
For eight years, relations with Libya were marked by
a serious crisis. In 1999, five Bulgarian nurses and a
Palestinian doctor (who later became a Bulgarian
citizen) were arrested in Libya, accused of deliberately
infecting over 400 children with HIV. The six were
sentenced to death in May 2004. Following an appeal,
Libya's highest court suspended the death sentences in
December 2005 and ordered a new trial. A year later, the
six were sentenced to death again. In 2007, the sentence
was converted to life imprisonment. The same year, the
EU and Libya agreed that the convicted would be handed
over to Bulgaria, where they were immediately pardoned.
The defense underwent major cuts during the 1990s and
an adjustment to NATO was made prior to membership in
2004. The mandatory military duty was abolished in 2007.
Bulgaria has participated in several international
peacekeeping operations, such as the Eu Force in Bosnia
and the ISA Force in Afghanistan. However, much of the
country's military equipment, in particular aviation, is
still of older Soviet production, which has made
Bulgaria still dependent on Russia for maintenance and
supplies of spare parts. In 2015, however, Bulgaria
signed a contract with Poland to have six of its fighter
aircraft repaired there, to reduce dependence on Russia.
Due to the country's weak air defense, Parliament
decided in early 2016 to allow NATO to take
responsibility for protecting the Bulgarian airspace.
FACTS - DEFENSE
15 300 men (2017)
The air Force
6,700 men (2017)
3 450 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
1.6 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
4.4 percent (2017)