Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has slammed as “unfriendly steps” and a “PR campaign, a show” Bulgaria’s expulsion of two staff of the Russian embassy in Sofia that Bulgarian prosecutors identified as spies.
“There is a large number of questions about why this was necessary, in the way it was done, what was the purpose of such actions,” Zakharova told a briefing in Moscow, according to a transcript posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.
On January 24, Bulgarian authorities declared the first secretary of the Russian Federation Embassy in Bulgaria as persona non grata and a member of the Russian trade mission in Sofia as “unwanted person”, she said.
“Going against the usual practice in such cases, the event was turned into an informational campaign, a media stunt. We have the main proof of that. The Russian embassy was notified about this decision only after the information was reported by the media. No proof of guilt of our diplomats, materials or grounds that were the cause of these decisions, was presented.”
Zakharova said that the reasons for the expulsion, that one of the diplomats had been studying Bulgaria’s electoral system and the other had been showing interest in energy projects, did not stand up to any scrutiny.
“What should diplomats engage in, according to Bulgarian representatives that were behind this decision? What do diplomats sent abroad do?
“They study legislation, opportunities for co-operation, they contact representatives of the authorities, NGOs, the civil society, the diplomatic corps, they organise events, talks, receptions, business forums, open exhibitions. If there are issues, they are solved diplomatically. In this case, there is a PR campaign, a show.”
Zakharova noted that earlier, on January 23, Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office pressed charges against three Russian nationals in relation to the suspected poisoning, in 2015, of businessman Emilian Gebrev and two other Bulgarian nationals.
“With a very ambiguous so-called ‘evidence base’ and conclusions in the ‘highly likely’ spirit, this tale can be seen as nothing but another element of the anti-Russian campaign, behind which, apparently, are representatives of the political establishment of this country, despite the fact that we are developing mutually beneficial relations,” she said.
“We see in the sequence of recent events a directed desire and intention to derail the bilateral agreements reached in the recent period and plainly poison the atmosphere of friendship, mutually beneficial and mutually respectful co-operation that must prevail in the relations between our countries and peoples. We maintain the right to retaliate. All the responsibility for the groundless provocation measures is on the Bulgarian side,” Zakharova said.
(Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry)