Russia’s ambassador in Sofia, Eleonora Mitrofanova, told reporters on December 29 that she had “no information” on why her country had put Bellingcat investigative journalist Christo Grozev – a Bulgarian citizen – on its federal wanted list.
Mitrofanova was speaking after a meeting at the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, to which she was invited in connection with the warrant for Grozev and other bilateral issues. The meeting lasted about half an hour.
Russian agency Tass said on December 26 that Grozev had been put on the Russian national wanted list because of supposedly “violating an article of the Criminal Code of Russia”.
Some Russian reports claimed that Grozev – Bellingcat’s lead investigator on Russia who has a track record of exposing Kremlin-backed crimes – was wanted on a charge of “spreading false information”.
Mitrofanova said that Grozev was being sought only in Russia and “he can go wherever he wants”. This was in response to concerns that Russia would issue an Interpol red notice for Grozev, a means of confounding his ability to travel internationally.
According to Mitfofanova, when Russia’s interior ministry issued warrants, it customarily did not explain why they had been issued.
“The fact that Grozev is wanted in the Russian Federation does not mean that someone will be looking for him all over the world. This should be understood very clearly. That is, he is living somewhere and that’s it. Nobody is threatening him with anything . It’s simply a warning of the type ‘don’t come here again’,” she said.
Ahead of the Russian ambassador’s meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Grozev said on Twitter: “Looking forward to the Russian ambassador’s answers today as to why I am being ‘wanted’ on opaque ‘criminal charges’. And grateful that most political parties and the Bulgarian government stood up for me – and for free speech – and are asking the Kremlin tough questions”.
The report about Grozev being “wanted” by Russia prompted calls by a number of parliamentary groups for the summoning of the Russian ambassador, and for the caretaker Foreign Minister to be summoned to brief the National Assembly on the matter.
A statement by the Russian embassy after Mitrofanova’s meeting at the Foreign Ministry said that the “situation” with Grozev had been “clarified”, “emphasising that a violation of Russian legislation leads to corresponding legal consequences, independent of the type of activity of the accused/suspect person or his citizenship. We emphasised that it is not about the intimidation of the journalist or any threat to his life”.
Bulgarian news agency BTA reported that Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry would send its Russian counterpart a request for more information regarding the Grozev case.
On December 29, caretaker Prime Minister Gulub Donev described Russia’s issuing of the warrant for Grozev as “unacceptable” and said that Bulgaria had not been officially informed of the move, which he said was “an encroachment on the freedom of speech and an attempt to intimidate a Bulgarian citizen”.
Grozev tweeted after seeing Mitrofanova’s comments to reporters: “Russian ambassador says she doesn’t know why I am on Russia’s ‘Wanted’ list, but that ‘we won’t chase him around the world, and this just means that one more time we are telling him he’s not wanted here’. So.. they ‘want’ me, to tell me they not ‘want’ me?”
In a statement some hours after the meeting with Mitrofanova, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said that deputy minister Kostadin Kodzhabashev had expressed “an official protest” at Russia’s decision to declare Grozev wanted.
“It was pointed out that Bulgaria was not officially informed about it and he insisted on finding out the reasons for this as soon as possible,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The statement said that it had been “explicitly noted” that Bulgaria saw the decision to declare Grozev wanted as “directed against freedom of speech and the media, as well as an attempt to intimidate a Bulgarian citizen”.
“During the meeting, the Bulgarian side also noted that against the background of the inclusion of Bulgaria in the list of the so-called ‘enemy states’ of the Russian Federation, the decision to declare Mr. Grozev wanted further undermines bilateral relations, which are already at one of their lowest levels, and that is not the fault of Bulgaria”.
The Foreign Ministry said that it was emphasised that the the strong response in Bulgaria to the case was a sign of society’s sensitivity to the violation of basic human rights.
(Archive screenshot of a video by the Russian embassy)
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