Irked by Bulgaria’s expulsion of 70 of its “diplomats” that Bulgaria has said were working as spies, Russia on June 28 said that it was shuttering its consulate in Sofia, consulate-general in Bulgaria’s largest Black Sea city Varna and in Rousse on the Danube.
Kremlin mouthpiece Tass, quoting the Russian embassy in Sofia, said that the consulate in Rousse was being closed for a month, while there was no timeframe for the closure of the consulates in capital city Sofia and in Varna.
Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who has named Russian ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova as among those instrumental in bringing down his reformist government in a parliamentary vote of no confidence on June 21, announced the expulsion of the Russians earlier on June 28.
This is the largest number of Russian “diplomats” expelled from Bulgaria, a Nato and EU member state that in recent years has ordered out a succession of those attached to the Russian embassy in Sofia but which it has identified as committing espionage, in particular with military intelligence goals.
Petkov described the diplomats being expelled as having undertaken activities “uncharacteristic” with their official job titles.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Mitrofanova had been summoned to a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Irena Dimitrova to be informed about the expulsions.
Mitrofanova was told that Bulgaria had decided to cut the number of staff of Russian missions in Bulgaria to limits not exceeding the number of those in Bulgarian missions in Russia – a limit of no more than 23 diplomatic, and 25 administrative and technical staff.
Before the announcement of the expulsions, Russia’s embassy in Bulgaria had 114 diplomatic staff, exceeding by multiples the number of staff of Bulgaria’s embassy in Moscow.
Visiting Kyiv in March, Petkov had said that he was considering a significant cut in Russian diplomats in Sofia.
“How is it possible to have 114 Russian diplomats as part of their mission. What have these 114 people done to strengthen our relations or to prevent the unilateral use of the treaty to cut off gas? I really wonder what these people are doing here,” Petkov said at the time.
Within Bulgaria’s ruling coalition, Democratic Bulgaria repeatedly has called for Mitrofanova to be expelled from Bulgaria, given her lengthy track record of statements insulting Bulgaria’s government and Bulgaria’s people.
Within Bulgaria’s ruling coalition, Petkov’s announcement was received less than warmly by Kornelia Ninova, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the successor-in-title to the Bulgarian Communist Party, which held the country in its thrall when it was a subservient satellite of the Kremlin.
“The decision to expel 70 Russian diplomats is an unprecedented act in Bulgarian diplomacy, which will have long-term consequences. It was not taken by the Cabinet or the coalition council. The BSP strongly disagrees with this decision, whoever took it and wherever it was taken,” said Ninova, whose party has long since advocated cordial relations with the Kremlin and which has opposed Bulgaria providing military assistance to Ukraine for that country to defend itself against Russia’s war on it.
Petkov’s move also was, predictably, criticised by Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the pro-Kremlin Vuzrazhdane party, currently the smallest in Bulgaria’s Parliament but which believes a new election would propel it to a greater presence in the next legislature.
“If he (Petkov) stays in power for a while longer, he will declare war on Russia,” Kostadinov said in a Facebook post.
Petkov’s announcement of the expulsion of the Russians comes as his We Continue the Change (WCC) party is in a quest to, having been voted out of office, come up with a formulation that could be voted into office as a new government.
His potential partners are the BSP, now offended by the expulsion of the Russian diplomats, and Democratic Bulgaria, advocates for a tougher line against Russia, as well as a handful of MPs who formerly sat for the populist ITN party, which is led by cable television presenter Slavi Trifonov. It was not immediately clear if Petkov’s decisive action on the 70 Russian “diplomats” would be a deal-breaker for the BSP in talks on a future proposed government.
It was ITN’s defection from the ruling party benches that triggered Bulgaria’s current political crisis. ITN’s departure from the ruling coalition, on the flimsy if not outright sadly laughable pretext of policy on North Macedonia, may leave Bulgaria in the hands of a caretaker government, to be appointed by President Roumen Radev, that will lean to a flaccid line on Ukraine, and an election the results of which are not predictable, but which may be foreboding for Bulgaria’s role as a Nato state on the eastern flank of the Nato alliance.
Should WCC not succeed in getting a government into office, or should it give up its quest if there is no sign that the numbers are running its way, Bulgaria would slide towards its fourth parliamentary elections in two years, possibly in the autumn, with the spectre of such elections producing groupings in Parliament that would hold sway in siding with Putin’s war against Ukraine.
(Photo: Russia’s embassy in Sofia)
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