Bulgarian state services identified the diplomats “as people who were working against our interests,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said.
Bulgaria will expel 70 Russian diplomatic staff, the EU country has announced, the largest number of Russians expelled from the Balkan country at one time.
The move, announced by the foreign ministry and the outgoing prime minister, was the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats by Sofia in recent years and more than half of Moscow’s diplomatic footprint in the Balkan country.
“Bulgaria is going to expel 70 Russian diplomats… Our services identified them as people working against our interests,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told reporters on Tuesday.
“Anyone who works against Bulgaria’s interests will be called upon to return to their country. We expect a 70-seat plane to fly back to Moscow,” Petkov said.
Those identified as a “threat to national security” must leave by July 3, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said.
There was no immediate Russian response to the spying allegations, although an unnamed source told Russia’s TASS news agency that Moscow would respond.
Several European countries have expelled Russian diplomats after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, with Russia responding in kind by expelling European diplomats.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had summoned Russian ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova to inform her of Sofia’s decision on the mass expulsion.
Bulgaria also expected Russia to temporarily close its consulate general in Ruse in northern Bulgaria, while Bulgaria will temporarily close its consulate in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, the ministry said.
Petkov has taken an unusually strong stance against Russia for a country that had close ties to Moscow during the communist era and has long been a draw for Russian tourists. He fired his defense minister in February for refusing to call what Russia describes as “a special military operation” against Ukraine a “war”.
Bulgaria had already expelled ten Russian diplomats in March because of the war in Ukraine.
Although Bulgaria was an EU and NATO member, it was once a staunch ally of the Soviet Union under communism and still has close cultural, historical and economic ties to Russia.
A series of spy scandals since 2019 have worsened relations between the two countries, leading to the expulsion of some 20 diplomats and a technical assistant.