World News

Bulgaria softens tone but still points finger at Russian aircraft

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria toned down its criticism of Moscow on Tuesday, saying Russian aircraft had not been involved in violations of its air space but once again blamed Russia for not observing international norms in aviation.

Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolay Nenchev said on Sunday there had been a rise in violations of its air space by Russian military and commercial aircraft in the past month, calling the alleged breaches a “provocations toward Bulgaria and its air forces”. Russia rejected the allegations.

Nenchev said Russian military aircraft had entered what he termed “Bulgaria’s area of responsibility” in NATO airspace four times in the past month while Russian passenger planes breached the air space six times in this period, adding the planes had turned off their transponders.

Russia said on Monday its aircraft flying over the Black Sea had followed international rules and confined themselves to neutral zones.

However, while Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry said on Tuesday it was not seeking confrontation with anyone, it maintained there had been “cases of non-observation of the international norms”.

“They did not have their transponders turned on and missed to declare their flight plans. There are also cases of flights of aircrafts without distinguishing signs,” it said.

Russia said on Monday it had kept the transponders on the aircraft at all times.

Bulgaria, a former Communist state and once staunch ally of Moscow, is almost entirely dependent on Russian energy supplies, and many Bulgarians feel a deep affinity for their giant neighbour across the Black Sea.

“We express concerns about keeping the mutual respect and trust among the Black Sea countries in the realisation of flights in the international airspace over the inland water areas of the Black Sea,” the ministry said.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Alison Williams