Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov called on Russia to stop spying – a day after the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office announced new accused of spying for Moscow. He said that Sofia would declare Russian diplomats persona non grata without specifying how many. Last year, Bulgaria expelled Russian diplomats three times on espionage charges.
Once again, we have to declare Russian diplomats undesirable persons,” the Bulgarian prime minister said during a trip to the city of Silistra in the north-east of the country. For yesterday’s operation, I appeal to his leadership with a request to stop spying in Bulgaria again,” Reuters cited him as stating. Friendship is friendship. We have always demonstrated this, including on the issue of the Balkan Stream gas pipeline, but (it is impossible) to spy on our capabilities in NATO,” Borisov added.
Access to NATO-related information
Two Bulgarian military intelligence officers detained during a special operation in Sofia were arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia, the spokesman for Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Siika Mileva said on Friday.
From her words, it followed that the spy group included more people, but so far, only two have been arrested. Their names were not disclosed. According to a Bulgarian prosecutor’s office representative, the group was led by a former high-ranking official of the Bulgarian military intelligence. His task was to create an agent network, Interfax reported, citing Bulgarian television.
According to Mileva, the spy group head recruited those who had access to information related to Bulgaria, the EU, and NATO.
According to a representative of the prosecutor’s office, the group also included an intelligence officer’s spouse, who has dual citizenship of Russia and Bulgaria. She mediated between the intelligence officer and the staff of the Russian embassy in Bulgaria, Mileva said. The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office has records of their conversations at the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office’s disposal and documented her visits to the embassy, she said.
According to a representative of the Bulgarian Prosecutor General’s Office, the group included one employee of the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense, as well as three current and former military intelligence officers who collected confidential information and passed it on to the group leader.
In Sofia, the Russian embassy said on Friday that speculation about his alleged involvement should end until a court ruled and called the case an attempt to “demonize” Russia again. The United States, Britain, and neighboring North Macedonia have said they support Bulgaria’s efforts against “malicious acts” on its territory.
Over the past 18 months, Sofia has already expelled six Russian diplomats, including a military attaché. They were suspected of espionage. This has led to a worsening of historically close relations between Russia and Bulgaria, which is part of NATO and the EU, Reuters notes.
Last year Bulgaria expelled Russians three times. The last time this happened was at the end of December 2020. Then the country’s Prosecutor General’s Office accused the Russian diplomat of collecting data on US military personnel’s number and deployment since 2017 during exercises in Bulgaria. Given 72 hours for the diplomat to leave the country.
In September 2020, Bulgaria declared persona non grata and expelled two Russian diplomats. The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office accused them of collecting information on plans to modernize the Bulgarian army and maintain the armed forces’ technical readiness since 2016 and then passing it on to Russian military intelligence.
In January last year, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office accused two more Russian diplomats of spying for Moscow – collecting intelligence information about Bulgaria’s elections and the country’s energy sector.
In October 2019, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office also accused an employee of the Russian embassy of espionage. It was about the embassy’s first secretary, who collected information representing state secrets of transferring it to a foreign state.