Recriminations among politicians in Bulgaria over expulsion of Russian diplomats continue

Domestic political disputes between rival camps in Bulgaria continued on June 30 over outgoing Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s announcement that 70 Russian diplomats were being expelled for working against Bulgaria’s national interest.

One of the disputes involved whether President Roumen Radev – who in two presidential campaigns made clear he favoured warmer relations with Moscow, and who controversially has said “Crimea is Russia” – had advance knowledge of the expulsions.

Speaking on June 30 in Madrid, where he was attending a Nato summit, Radev said that the Presidency had not received a report from the State Agency for National Security on the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.

Radev said that at a June 9 meeting of the Cabinet’s security council (not to be confused with the Consultative Council on National Security, which is convened by the head of state), the matter had not been on the planned agenda but had been added to it.

The Cabinet security council meeting, which was attended by a representative of the Presidency, had made no decision on the matter, according to Radev.

He said that after the representative of the Presidency returned to the President’s office and said what had happened at the council meeting, a letter had been sent to the secretary of the security council with a question about the decisions taken.

According to Radev, the reply was that no decision had been taken by the council.

He said that the consequences of the expulsion could be extremely serious, especially for Bulgaria’s diplomatic mission in Moscow.

Radev said that responsibility still lay with the government, even if it had resigned.

On June 29, the Cabinet office insisted that the decision had not been taken by the Cabinet, but by the Foreign Ministry.

E-government minister Bozhidar Bozhankov, speaking on June 30, described Radev’s reaction as “ridiculous”.

Bozhankov said that he was “shocked” by Radev’s claim that he had no information about the matter, because his office had been represented at the June 9 meeting and the head of the presidential administration, Dimitar Stoyanov, had been duly informed about the whole case.

“If anyone in the country has really been informed, it is President Radev and his reaction is ridiculous,” Bozhankov said.

Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova, a deputy prime minister in the outgoing coalition government and whose party has suspended talks with Petkov’s party on a possible future government because of the Russian diplomats issue, said on Wednesday that Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska had presented information to the Cabinet about the number of staffers of the Russian embassy.

This happened in the context of reducing that number on the basis of reciprocity, given that Russian embassy staff in Sofia significantly outnumber Bulgarian embassy staff in Moscow.

Ninova said that the BSP did not agree with a proposal to reduce Russian embassy staff on the basis of reciprocity.

Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, speaking after briefing MPs at a sitting behind closed doors on the night of June 29, said that the notion that a single individual was responsible for the decision on the expulsion was yet another attempt at political manoeuvring.

Petkov said that his one mistake on the issue of the expulsion of the Russians had been miscommunicating about the matter.

Interior Minister Boiko Rashkov said on June 30 that the decision to expel the Russian diplomats from Bulgaria had not been one-man decision.

The issue of the number of diplomats at the Russian embassy in Sofia had been discussed not only at the Cabinet security council, but also at Cabinet meetings, according to Rashkov.

Rashkov said that Bulgaria had 15 diplomats in Russia, while Russia had sent 10 times more people of diplomatic rank to Bulgaria.

“Can we assume that they have an extremely strong diplomatic interest in a small country like Bulgaria? I associate this huge presence with something else that was hinted at by the Prime Minister,” Rashkov said.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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