11 November 2022:
‘The Netherlands is ready to give Bulgaria F-16 jet fighters if we agree to provide our MiG-29s and SU-25s to Ukraine.
Now it remains for the caretaker government to waste no time and launch this process without delay, demonstrating that it is really thinking about the modernisation of our army, not how to best serve Putin.’
This is what Ivaylo Mirchev, Democratic Bulgaria MP, wrote in a Facebook post on his personal profile.
Later on the same day, 11 November, Mirchev spoke about the topic on the Oshte ot Denya programme on the Bulgarian National TV.
Nadya Obretenova, host of the Oshte ot Denya Programme, BNT: ‘The Ministry of Defence has refuted your statement. What facts are you basing your claim on?’
Ivaylo Mirchev, Democratic Bulgaria MP: ‘It is only now that I’ve heard that the Ministry of Defense has refuted the statement. In fact, it comes from one of the most popular media outlets in the Netherlands, which late yesterday evening reported that the Netherlands is prepared to provide F-16 fighter jets from its warehouses, the kind that will be replaced with a more modern platform, and provide them to Central and Eastern European countries which can hand over to Ukraine Soviet… old Soviet aircraft for Ukraine to use to defend its territory.’
Nadya Obretenova: In order to modernize the Bulgarian army, is that why you’re saying this?”
Ivaylo Mirchev: ‘No, no. What I mean is this: since a similar, very similar information was published in the Netherlands, it was only normal for me as an MP to ask the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defence what action they have taken in the case. Because there have been all sorts of arguments like ‘There’s no money’, ‘We can’t’, ‘It’s difficult’, ‘Training will be required’, and so on — now the Netherlands is prepared to provide us with F-16 fighter jets. Again, I say this is not fake news or anything, this is official news and very easily verifiable from a journalist’s perspective.’
On Monday, 14 November, the MP appeared on the morning programme of BTV, where he also commented on the topic of the Netherlands and the F-16 jet fighters.
Zlatimir Yochev, host of the Tazi Sutrin Programme, BTV: ‘Mr. Mirchev, at the end of last week you said that if Bulgaria gives its old MiGs to the Netherlands, they will give us back our F-16 jet fighters. Where did you come across this information, given that the Ministry of Defence says it has not received any such offer from the Netherlands?’
Ivaylo Mirchev, Democratic Bulgaria, MP: ‘From one of the biggest Dutch media, which reports that this information has already been discussed with the MPs and a similar decision is to be taken in the Dutch Parliament. It is normal not to discuss these topics, especially in public, but there is a specificity in Bulgaria that there is very serious resistance to Bulgaria donating its Soviet equipment to Ukraine and receiving corresponding NATO analogues.’
Mirchev cites the Dutch EW Magazine (also known by its old name Elsevier Weekblad) as the source of his claims and posted a link to the specific article in a comment below his Facebook post. The magazine cannot be described as ‘one of the largest Dutch media outlets’ — it is the website of a weekly commentary magazine. It is owned by a large publishing group, including the scientific literature publisher Elsevier. In the description on its Facebook page, it describes itself as ‘free of ideology, but inclined towards a skeptical assessment of commonly accepted facts and arguments, and suspicion of widely shared views’.
The EW Magazine article is dated 9 November and says that the Dutch government is considering giving the surplus F-16 fighter jets it owns to Eastern European allies so that they can in turn give their old Russian MiG fighters to Ukraine. This is not news in and of itself — the debate about what to do with the old F-16s, which the Netherlands is already replacing with the new F-35 fighter jets, has been going on for a long time. The idea of giving them to Eastern European countries, which in turn would give their MiGs to Ukraine, is not new either, but a decision on this has not yet been made. In this sense, the announcement cannot be described as ‘official news’.
It is also mentioned that the members of the Dutch Parliament were briefed about the government’s plan in confidence. The article is based on unnamed sources. According to them, the government plan is still awaiting approval from Washington. Such approval is needed for any transaction in US-made military and defence equipment. The article does not mention anything about the Su-25 aircraft, nor Bulgaria in particular.
In fact, the jet fighters are mentioned only in the first paragraph of the text, and its main content is on a completely different issue — that the government is keeping secret the weapons it is supplying to Ukraine. The information has not attracted any interest from other Dutch, and even less the international media. Information on the subject cannot be found anywhere else — the handful of mentions refer exclusively to the Elsevier Weekblad.
The Bulgarian reaction
On 11 November, in response to Mirchev’s claims, the Ministry of Defence made the following statement: ‘The Ministry of Defence has not received an offer from the Netherlands to provide F-16 MLU aircraft, while providing MiG-29 and Su-25 to Ukraine.” Back in June, the Ministry of Defence had requested information from the Netherlands on the provision of F-16 Blok 15 aircraft and the response then was that there was no such possibility, Dimitar Stoyanov, Minister of Defence in the caretaker government, said.
‘I had a meeting with the Minister of Defence of the Netherlands. At the moment, the Netherlands is expressing readiness to help with the training of our F-16 jet fighters,’ Dimitar Stoyanov said after the EU Council meeting in Brussels on 15 November 2022. The minister’s statement is available here.
Minister Stoyanov attended a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels. His Dutch counterpart was also at the meeting, as noted in the Minister’s statement. We did not find any Bulgarian media outlet that has asked the Dutch Defence Minister Kaysa Olongren a question on the subject. A day earlier Olongren visited the NATO headquarters and met with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, but the topic was not raised during the briefing by either the participants or journalists.
As of 15 November, there is no official decision or position of the Dutch authorities on the matter.
MP Ivaylo Mirchev’s claim that the Netherlands is ready to give Bulgaria F-16s if Bulgaria provides its MiG-29s and SU-25s to Ukraine is misleading. Such an idea is indeed being discussed in the Netherlands, but we are talking about Eastern European countries, not Bulgaria specifically. The published article that Ivaylo Mirchev referred to also does not specifically mention Bulgaria. No official decision has been made by the Dutch government. According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence, at this discussions are limited to pilot training.
This fact check was carried out by Ralitsa Kovacheva, Georgi Marchev and Vanessa Nikolova.