Bulgaria expels Russian diplomats amid tensions

In late April, Russia ended its gas supply to Bulgaria after Bulgarian authorities refused to comply with Moscow’s demands to pay its bills in rubles, the Russian currency.

Bulgaria’s defense minister was also fired from office in March for referring to the Russian war as a “special military operation,” the term used by the Kremlin.

Two Russian aircraft left Bulgaria on Sunday with large numbers of Russian diplomatic personnel and their families amid a mass expulsion that has triggered tensions between the two historically close nations, a Russian diplomat said.

Filip Voskresensky, a senior Russian diplomat, told reporters at the airport in the Bulgarian capital Sofia that he is one of 70 members of Russia’s diplomatic mission who were declared “persona non grata” last week and ordered to leave the country before Sunday.

Bulgaria’s decision was announced by interim Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who lost a vote of no confidence on June 22 and has taken a firm stand against Russia after it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

He has claimed that Moscow used “hybrid warfare” tactics to bring down his government.

Petkov has said the Kremlin will keep 43 of its employees after the expulsion, noting that Bulgaria only has 12 members of its diplomatic mission in Moscow.

“Whoever acts against Bulgaria’s interests will be asked to return to the country where he came from,” he said.

On Friday, Russian Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova gave Bulgaria an ultimatum to reverse its decision, warning that Moscow would support diplomatic relations.

Eleonora Valentinovna Mitrofanova is a Russian politician and diplomat. She currently serves as the Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria, a position she has held since January 15, 2021.

Eleonora Valentinovna Mitrofanova

“I intend to urgently present to the rulers of my country the issue of the closure of the Russian embassy in Bulgaria, which will inevitably lead to the closure of the Bulgarian diplomatic mission in Moscow,” he said in a statement.

The expulsion, which has severely deteriorated diplomatic relations, represents the largest number in history of Russian diplomats expelled from Bulgaria, which is a member of the European Union and NATO.

Bulgaria has backed Western sanctions against Moscow since it invaded Ukraine more than four months ago.

The EU, to which Bulgaria has belonged since 2007, responded to Russia’s “unjustified threat” and said it “fully supports Bulgaria and stands in solidarity with it.”