Spain offers to send fighter jets to Bulgaria as part of NATO plan to deter Russia

The incorporation of the ‘Blas de Lezo’ frigate into the alliance’s permanent fleet has also been moved forward to next week amid the rising tensions

Spain offered on Thursday to send Air Force fighter jets to Bulgaria as part of a plan from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to deter a potential Russian incursion in Eastern Europe.

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles also reaffirmed Spain’s commitment to NATO, but indicated that the government supported “deescalation” and a diplomatic end to the current crisis, prompted by Russia’s growing aggression against Ukraine.

In February 2021, the Air Force sent six Eurofighter jets to the Mihail Kogălniceanu airbase, which is located near the city of Constanta in Romania. From this base, the jets carried out monitoring patrols of the Black Sea. This year, Spain’s Defense Chief of Staff offered to repeat the mission in Bulgaria if the logistic problems involved with the operation were resolved. This mission would run parallel to the one that takes place in spring in Lithuania. The four-month operation in Lithuania, which Spain will be carrying out for the ninth time, is also aimed at protecting the air space of the Baltics against possible Russian incursions.

What’s more, the Defense Ministry has pushed forward the incorporation of the Blas de Lezo frigate into NATO’s permanent fleet, which will operate in the western Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The Blas de Lezo, which is one of the most modern frigates in the Spanish navy, was meant to join the NATO fleet in a few weeks’ time, but this has been pushed forward to next week due to the rising tensions with Russia. The Meteoro, a meteoro-class offshore patrol vessel, known by the Spanish acronym BAM, also set sail on Monday from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria to join the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2, which it will lead for six months in an operation expected to also take place in the western Mediterranean and Black Sea.

Gasto militar Presupuestos 2023
A Eurofighter jet in the Canary Islands. Elvira Urquijo A. (EFE)

Since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, Spain has actively participated in NATO’s measures to increase its presence in Eastern Europe. Its main contribution has come from ground support, with 346 soldiers and the Leopardo and Pizarro armored fighting vehicles stationed at Adazi base in Latvia, 120 kilometers from the Russian border. The mission of this eastern battalion, which is under the command of Canada, is to show NATO’s solidarity with the Baltic states and warn Russia that any aggression against these countries would be a declaration of war against NATO.

These missions were already planned to go ahead before Russia escalated tensions by stationing troops on the border of Ukraine. What’s new is that NATO has held an extraordinary meeting of its military committee for the first time, and given instructions to shorten enlistment times and the period in which it could respond with force to ensure it is ready for combat.

Despite this, sources from NATO say that not even in the worst-case scenario is the alliance considering military conflict with Russia over Ukraine. Ukraine does not belong to NATO and as such is not covered by the North Atlantic Treaty, popularly known as the Washington Treaty, which commits to mutual defense in the case of aggression. Indeed, one of Russia’s goals with the current crisis is to obtain guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO.

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