Bulgaria wins strong Euro-Atlantic support following spy scandal

Allies support country's decision to expel two Russian citizens suspected of espionage

Photo: BGNES Bulgarian Foreign Ministry

Bulgaria will expel two Russian citizens suspected of espionage. Thereafter, country’s actions against the “malign foreign influence” won the support of its Euro-Atlantic allies, the US, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Bulgaria will declare personae non-grata two Russian diplomats charged with spying, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva announced on the morning of 24 January. 

“We will undertake the due actions, i.e. declare those diplomats personae non-grata. Within today, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation will be summoned,” the Foreign Minister added.

The Russian citizens accused of spying will now have 48 hours to leave Bulgaria. 

The Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the two Russian citizens who gathered top-secret information to be further submitted to a foreign state or foreign organisation.

The pre-trial proceedings against the Russian citizens have been suspended as both of them enjoy diplomatic immunity. Within the limits of its competence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a note declaring one of the Russian diplomats “persona non-grata” and the other “unacceptable” technical staff member of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Bulgaria. 

Russian Ambassador Anatoliy Makarov was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive the notes. Both men are given 48 hours to leave the country.    

On its page on Facebook the Russian embassy reported that the note was handed to the Ambassador. No evidence confirming the activity incompatible with the status of Russian diplomats has been provided, the statement reads. 

Russia reserves the right to take reciprocal measures. “The decision of the Bulgarian authorities to disseminate this information publicly prior to notifying the Embassy does not correspond to the traditionally constructive spirit of relations between our states," the Russian embassy said in a posting on its Facebook page. 

 Bulgaria wins strong Euro-Atlantic support

The embassies of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada support the efforts of Bulgaria towards thwarting the “malign foreign actions,” BGNES reported.  

“The US Embassy commends recent actions of the Bulgarian government to defend the country’s independence and sovereignty from malign influence, including the 24 January announcement of the expulsion of two Russian Embassy officers for espionage and the 23 January announcement of charges against three Russian citizens for attempted murder,” reads a special statement of the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria posted on its internet page.

“We support the long-term efforts of the agencies involved in investigating and exposing violations of Bulgarian law. Bulgaria is a strong NATO ally and EU partner and has an inalienable right to define its own future,“ says another statement addressed to the cabinet of PM Boyko Borissov. 

London also backed the proactive policy of Sofia.

The UK continues to support the ongoing proactive stance of Bulgaria to counter foreign malign actions that undermine its sovereignty. The UK supports the steps taken by the Bulgarian authorities to respond to this threat and safeguard its citizens, territory and national security.

“We note with interest the recent statement of the Bulgarian Prosecutor General and the information provided by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria concerning further acts of Russian espionage on the territory of Bulgaria,” says the statement of Her Majesty’s embassy. 

“The United Kingdom keeps backing the current proactive policy of Bulgaria in countering the malign foreign actions that undermine its sovereignty. The UK supports the steps undertaken by the Bulgarian authorities towards answering this threat and protecting its citizens, territory and national security,” it is underscored in the statement.  

Canada also expressed concern over the Russian espionage activities in Bulgaria. 

“We are greatly concerned over the information about the new activities of Russian spies in Bulgaria. Canada backs all diplomatic and legal measures announced by the Bulgarian authorities on 23 and 24 January meant to respond to foreign activity which undermines the sovereignty of Bulgaria and put at risk the safety and security of the Bulgarian citizens,” reads the statement of the Canadian embassy which provides services not only to Bulgaria but also to Romania and Moldova. 

How the new spies were exposed?

Following a warning signal from the State Agency for National Security the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office launched pre-trial proceedings against two Russian citizens who collected highly confidential information for transferring it to a foreign state.” In the course of the investigation on one pre-trial proceeding it was established that from 2017 to the present day a citizen of the Russian Federation carried out intelligence activities gathering information about the mechanisms of election process in Bulgaria. It was also established that the Russian citizen has diplomatic status and is accredited in Bulgaria as first secretary of the consular department of Embassy of the Russian Federation in Sofia.

As a result of the investigation on the second pre-trial proceeding, it was found out that from October 2018 till the present moment a Russian citizen has been gathering intelligence information including that covered by obligation of official and state secrecy which he later forwarded to the headquarters of the Russian intelligence service in Moscow. 

In order to carry out his illegal activity the Russian representative came into contact with the Bulgarian citizens who had access to relevant information. Additional probe showed that the Russian citizen enjoyed diplomatic immunity being an employee of the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in Sofia.

According to Art.31 (a) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the criminal proceedings against the two Russian citizens will be suspended despite sufficient grounds for involving them as defendants because they have diplomatic immunity. 

Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev has officially informed the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the facts established in the course of the investigation and the actions of the prosecution. 

BGNES reminds that last autumn another first secretary of Embassy of the Russian Federation was recalled on the insistence of Bulgaria. As far as he is concerned, it was only reported that he received information from the Bulgarian citizens. This time, however, it was reported in which fields lied the interests of the two newly exposed spies.

The charges pressed against the chair of the Russophiles movement in Bulgaria also speak in support of the claim concerning espionage for Russia. Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeev and Kremlin-tied general Leonid Reshetnikov were banned from entering Bulgaria for 10 years as a result of the same investigation.   

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