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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, Bulgaria Seek Defense-Industry Links

SOFIA -- Bulgaria and Russia have set up a joint commission to try to restore their defense industry links, which were broken with the demise of the Warsaw Pact. Acccording to a government statement, the commission will work out the principle issues of defense cooperation and will provide the necessary legal, economic and financial conditions for "mutually beneficial cooperation" in the defense industry. The agreement was signed Tuesday during a visit of senior officials from Rosvooruzhenie, Moscow's biggest state-licensed arms dealer and Russia's Foreign Trade, Finance and Defense ministries. The visit aimed to strengthen links between the two countries, which deteriorated with the collapse of the communist defense pact four years ago. "There are already eight Bulgarian-Soviet military equipment plants and we have prepared the documents for setting up five new ones," said Oleg Lobov, the secretary of Russia's Security Council and the head of the Russian government delegation. "There are serious tax and customs duty reductions for these enterprises," Lobov added. Along with Bulgaria's prime minister, Lyuben Berov, and President Zhelyu Zhelev, the delegation met with directors of local military plants "and discussed specific products," said Bulgarian government spokesman Nikola Nikolov, declining to elaborate. A separate working group is expected next month to discuss ways that Russia could repay its debt to Sofia with fuel and military supplies and spare parts. Bulgarian estimates show that Russia's debt amounts to about $500 million, but Russian officials said earlier that the figure was negotiable. The arms industry, once the economic powerhouse of the ousted communist regime, has crumbled after the loss of traditional markets. Now most of the debt-ridden military plants operate at less than half capacity or make goods for civilian use. Bulgaria, once a staunch Soviet ally, was one of the biggest arms exporters to the former Soviet Union and to pro-communist regimes in the Middle East and Africa. Bulgaria was also among the first East European countries to endorse the U.S.-sponsored Partnership for Peace plan, which was initiated to bring former communist countries closer to NATO.