October 7, 2015:
The Russian aircraft manufacturer Mikoyan, also known as MiG, has officially complained to Bulgaria over the country’s decision to have Poland upgrade a half-dozen MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters. The Bulgarians are saving about $14 million by letting Poland, instead of Russia, do the upgrades.
MiG, of course, is mostly upset about losing out on servicing the Bulgarian MiG-29s which they would have charged about $46 million for. It’s part of a struggle for the company since the end of the Cold War. Sales of Mikoyan designs have dried up, partially due to the decidedly negative reliability and combat performance MiG-29 fighters have shown, notably in the 1990s (Desert Storm, but also over the Balkans).
The deal has been controversial in Bulgaria. While some politicians are looking at the money savings, some are concerned about antagonizing Russia. One of the very real problems could involve Russia deciding to cut off support for Bulgaria’s military. Bulgaria is very dependent on Russian support for much of its military gear, far more than any other NATO country. This is not a good state of affairs for Bulgaria, which considered retiring the MiG-29s rather than pay the exorbitant price Mikoyan wanted.
These Russian threats are nothing new and have been increasing since the 1990s. Many Russian defense firms went out of business in the 1990s, because of lack of domestic and foreign orders. This was a potential disaster for a lot of countries using Russian weapons and equipment. But then non-Russian countries, mainly in East Europe but also in Israel and China, came forward to supply the needed spare parts and support services. Now Russia has revived a lot of its old Soviet era defense industries and wants this lost business back. Traditional methods are being used, with mixed success.