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Is NATO Trying To Extend Its Control of Black Sea Airspace Through Bulgaria?

July 27, 2016 (EIRNS)—Bulgaria, as one of the "New Europe" members of NATO, is the latest NATO member to take on the role of provocateur against Russia. Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev told Bulgarian television channel Nova TV, on July 24, that Russian military aircraft had entered what he termed "Bulgaria’s area of responsibility" in NATO airspace, four times in the past month, with their transponders off. Bulgaria has demanded an explanation from Moscow over the violations, Nenchev said, describing the incidents as "provocations toward Bulgaria and its air forces."

At the Defense Ministry in Moscow, spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov expressed complete surprise at the Bulgarian accusations.

"First of all, we, and not only we, would like to have explanations from Mr. Minister how far away from Bulgaria’s air borders the imaginary zone of NATO airspace lies?"

Konashenkov asked the next day.

"The planes of Russian Aerospace Forces make planned regular flights over the Black Sea. Their flight routes lie in strict compliance with international rules of using the airspace over neutral waters. Besides, all the planes, which have made the flights recently, including in June, had their ADS-B transponders on,"

Konashenkov said.

The problem, as Konashenkov indicated, is the definition of "Bulgaria’s area of responsibility" in airspace with respect to NATO. As the Bulgarian government made clear, on July 26, there was no violation of Bulgaria’s sovereign airspace. While the Bulgarian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the ministry does not contest the right of anyone to fly in international airspace over the Black Sea, it nonetheless appears that NATO, through Bulgaria, is, in fact, trying to extend its control over airspace in the Black Sea that is not sovereign.

There appears, in fact, to be no definition in international law of "NATO airspace," though the term is thrown about frequently, especially in the Baltics and in Turkey since last November’s shootdown of a Russian warplane in Syria by Turkish F-16’s.

"What does exist is the sovereign airspace of each country separately," Andrei Kelin, head of the department of European cooperation of the Russian Foreign Ministry, told RIA News agency last February, in arguing that airspace issues between Russia and a member of NATO should be dealt with bilaterally, rather than through NATO headquarters in Brussels.

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