Russia has denounced Bulgaria’s “groundless” decision to expel two Russian diplomats over accusations of espionage, reserving the right to retaliate.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that two Russian diplomats had been “declared persona non grata and given 72 hours to leave the country” for suspected espionage.
“A note has been handed to the deputy chief of mission at the Russian embassy,” the ministry said.
The Russian Embassy in Sofia said in a statement on Facebook on Monday, “We regret to state that this, another groundless demarche of the Bulgarian authorities, will not contribute to further building a constructive Russian-Bulgarian dialog.”
“The Russian side reserves the right to respond,” the embassy added.
The expulsions came following a letter from prosecutors that said “preliminary investigations” had shown that the two Russian nationals had “carried out intelligence activity incompatible with diplomatic relations.”
Prosecutors have said a suspected spy ring, led by a former senior Bulgarian military intelligence officer, had been passing classified information about Bulgaria, NATO, and the European Union (EU) to the Russian Embassy.
The six members of the alleged spying ring, including current and former Bulgarian military intelligence officers, were arrested on Friday.
The deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament also stressed Moscow’s right to retaliate against the Bulgarian move. “The principle of reciprocity remains the most adequate response in such situations. So be it, I believe,” Konstantin Kosachev said on Monday.
The latest expulsions bring to eight the number of the Russian diplomats Bulgaria has expelled over suspected espionage since October 2019.
Bulgaria, a NATO member, maintains close cultural, historical, and economic relations with Russia, which remains the country’s main energy partner.