US, UK embassies respond to Bulgaria expelling Russian ‘spy’
The embassies of the United States and of the United Kingdom in Sofia have responded to Bulgaria ordering the expulsion of a Russian diplomat alleged by prosecutors to have committed espionage.
Bulgaria’s Special Prosecutor’s Office, acting on a tip-off from the State Agency for National Security (SANS), investigated the first secretary of the Russian embassy and found that since September 2018, he had been involved in espionage.
Prosecutors said that the Russian diplomat had been conducting meetings to conspire with Bulgarian citizens, “including a senior official with access to classified information of the Republic of Bulgaria, the EU and Nato”.
The purpose of the meetings was to obtain, for intelligence purposes, information constituting state secrets, including through proposals for material benefits.
The Prosecutor’s Office said that it suspended the criminal investigation because the Russian had diplomatic immunity.
Russian ambassador Anatoly Markov was called to the Foreign Ministry on October 25 to discuss the matter, at which point the ministry reportedly was told the diplomat had left Bulgaria. On October 28, it emerged that he had not and he was declared persona non grata, and given 24 hours to leave Bulgaria.
In a statement, the US embassy said that the US “commends recent actions of the Bulgarian government to defend the country’s independence and sovereignty from malign influence.
“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 unalienable right to define its own future,” the US embassy said.
The British embassy said: “We note with interest the statements by the Bulgarian Prosecutor General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria concerning the expulsion of a Russian diplomat.
“The UK recognises that Bulgaria, as a reliable European partner and Nato ally, has the sovereign right to respond to threats to its national security. The UK continues to support Bulgaria’s efforts in this regard.”
In a message on Twitter on October 29, the Russian embassy said that it had received a note from the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry about an employee of the embassy being declared persona non grata.
“The diplomat will leave the country of stay within the specified time. The Russian side reserves the right to respond,” the Russian embassy said.
The incident comes several weeks after, in September, Bulgarian prosecutors lodged charges against the head of Bulgaria’s Russophile Movement, Nikolai Malinov, of committing espionage on behalf of Russia. Malinov denies the allegations.
In connection to the Malinov case, Bulgaria also banned former KGB general Leonid Reshetnikov – a figure close to Vladimir Putin – from entering Bulgaria for 10 years.
On September 11, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov told Parliament that SANS had imposed a 10-year ban on Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev entering the country. Malofeev is among those who allegedly had been in contact with Malinov.
There has been no announcement that the Malinov case and the expulsion of the Russian embassy first secretary are connected.
There have been conflicting reports regarding the identity of the Russian embassy’s first secretary. Bulgarian website Mediapool named him as Andrey Egorov, while a report by a Ukrainian website said that he was Vladimir Rusyaev.
As at October 30, the website of the Russian embassy lists nine first secretaries, including Egorov and Rusyaev.
This is the first time since 2001 that Bulgaria is expelling a Russian diplomat. That year, three Russian diplomats were ordered out of Bulgaria after a former Bulgarian military intelligence official was taken into custody while allegedly trying to hand top secret information to the Russian embassy.
In March 2018, while Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva expressed support for the UK in connection with the Skripal poisoning case, which London says was the work of Russia, Bulgaria was not among countries that expelled Russian diplomats in retaliation.