NATO deploys fighters to eastern Europe amid Russia-Ukraine tensions

Royal Netherlands Air Force

The Royal Netherlands Air Force is deploying two fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets to Bulgaria.  The Spanish Air Force will also send between five and seven Eurofighter Typhoons. The fighters will reinforce NATO’s Air Policing missions over the Black Sea. 

“Since Bulgaria does not have this type of capabilities and equipment, it is the solidarity of NATO member states that leads to the use of joint capabilities where possible and in accordance with the wishes of the respective countries,” Bulgarian Minister of Defense Stefan Yanev said.  

In 2019, the Bulgarian Air Force ordered eight new F-16C/D Block 70 fighters to modernize its fleet. They have yet to be delivered.

The routine deployment takes place amid heightened tensions in the region. On January 21, 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov demanded that NATO withdraw its troops from all countries that were not part of the alliance in 1997, including Bulgaria.  

“I do not want Bulgarian citizens to be left with the impression that something special happened […], that someone pointed a finger at Bulgaria and made a special statement,” Yanev commented. “These types of statements are made regularly, and I don’t think we should be so sensitive when someone talks about us.” 

Several NATO members are scrambling to reinforce the alliance’s presence in eastern Europe. To strengthen the Baltic Air Policing mission, which is currently led by Poland with the assistance of Belgium, Denmark is set to deploy four F-16 fighter jets to Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania. Since 2004, NATO air forces rotate to protect Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian airspaces from incursions, as the countries have no airborne capability of their own. 

On January 17, 2021, Royal Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft ferried ”light, anti-armor, defensive weapon systems” between RAF Brize Norton (BZZ) Air Base and Kyiv Boryspil International Airport (KBP).  


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