Bulgaria expels another Russian diplomat

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on April 29 that another Russian diplomat was being expelled from the country, and said that it was asking Russia’s law enforcement agencies to assist in investigating explosions at Bulgarian arms depots and the poisoning of three Bulgarian citizens.

This is the latest in a succession of expulsions of Russian diplomats from Bulgaria in recent years.

Bulgaria expelled two Russian diplomats in March after it said it had found they were committing espionage.

In October 2019, a Russian diplomat was expelled for committing espionage, followed by two more in January 2020, two more in September 2020 – to which Russia responded by expelling two Bulgarian diplomats in October 2020 – and another Russian diplomat was expelled in December 2020.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that minister Ekaterina Zaharieva had held an “in-depth and serious” conversation with Russian ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova.

“Bulgaria wishes to maintain equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia and in this regard insists on active and effective assistance from the Russian side to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incidents on our territory,” the Foreign Ministry said.

This was a reference to statements at a news conference on April 28 by the Prosecutor’s Office that it had found a link between four explosions at munitions plants in Bulgaria between 2011 and 2020. It said that there was a Russian connection and that suspicions were the blasts had been intended to disrupt supplies of ammunition to Ukraine and Georgia.

The Foreign Ministry said during Zaharieva’s conversation with the Russian ambassador, “attention was also paid to some public comments by Russian officials, which Bulgaria considers completely inappropriate”.

Bulgaria was a partner and ally in the EU and Nato “but this does not mean that we have owners, as you have told the media. The Bulgarian services work only in the interest of our national interests,” Zaharieva told the Russian ambassador.

She told Mitrofanova to suspend actions incompatible with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Earlier, Bulgarian National Radio quoted outgoing Prime Minister Boiko Borissov as saying that Bulgaria would be uncompromising in the face of a threat to national security.

On April 26, Zaharieva held talks with Czech ambassador Lukash Kautsky, who informed her about developments in the investigation into an explosion in 2014 at a munitions warehouse in Vrbetice, owned by Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev.

Prague has alleged a Russian link to the blast. As reported by Deutsche Welle’s English service, the Czech Republic has expelled 18 Russian diplomats after the allegations surfaced.

At the April 28 news conference, the Prosecutor’s Office said that similar methods were used in each of the explosions at the arms plants in Bulgaria.

It said that it and the State Agency for National Security had a basis to assume a link between the explosions in Bulgaria, an attempt in 2015 to poison Gebrev and others, and “serious offences in foreign countries” – the last-mentioned an apparent reference to the 2014 blast in the Czech Republic.

Gebrev’s EMCO, in a statement on April 28, disputed some of the claims at the Prosecutor’s Office news conference.

Contradicting what had been said by prosecutors, the company said that in the case of an explosion at Lovnidol in 2011, there had been no fire before the blast. It also denied that the munitions at the depot were destined for Georgia or anywhere else, and said that there was documentation to prove this.

Denying other allegations, the company said that prosecutors were trying to mislead Bulgarians and the international community by using false facts.

EMCO said that prosecutors were trying to use it as a scapegoat. It asked what prosecutors had been doing all these years about investigating the blasts, and suggested that for years, prosecutors had been seeking to cover up operations in Bulgaria by Russian special services.

(Photo of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Sofia: mfa.bg)

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