Russia expels 2 Bulgarian diplomats in retaliatory move

Two Bulgarian politicians were arrested for throwing red paint on the Russian Embassy and live streaming it over Facebook.

Flag of Bulgaria. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Flag of Bulgaria.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Russia on Friday announced it had expelled two Bulgarian diplomats from the country due to the "groundless" expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Sofia in March, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Several Russian diplomats have thus far been expelled from Bulgaria in the month of March. First, on March 2, two Russian diplomats were kicked out of the country for being charged with espionage by Bulgaria's chief prosecutor. The second instance was on March 18, when 10 more were expelled.

Further, on March 24, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov announced that he was recalling Bulgaria's ambassador to Russia.

On both occasions, Russia condemned the decision, calling them "hostile" and "aggressive" moves by Sofia. 

But notably, this seems to explicitly be retaliation for the expulsion of two diplomats on March 2.

 Russian embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Russian embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

"This measure is a response to the Bulgarian side's unmotivated decision in March this year to declare 'personae non grata' two diplomats of the Russian Embassy in Sofia," the Foreign Ministry said. 

At the time, the move wasn't seen by many Ukrainian politicians as a case of actually expelling spies or taking a stand against Russia, but was rather seen as a simple publicity stunt by the country's chief prosecutor, who is attempting to avoid pushes by the government to remove him.

"It's a game for fools, a smokescreen," former Bulgarian defense minister Boyko Noev said on TV at the time, as noted by Balkan Insight.

The chief prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, is a controversial figure for having protected Bulgarian officials in the previous government from corruption allegations.

Regardless, there are calls among some Bulgarian politicians to continue expelling Russian diplomats, specifically declaring Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova persona non grata, though Petkov refused to do this as it would amount to severing diplomatic ties with Russia, according to the Sofia Globe.

But negative sentiments against Russia are still present in Bulgaria, especially regarding the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is indicated by repeated pro-Ukraine rallies and, recently, vandalizing of the Russian Embassy in Sofia.

On Friday, two Bulgarian politicians were arrested for throwing red paint at the Russian embassy's sign and live streaming it on Facebook, the Sofia Globe reported.

This vandalism further came after the Sofia City Council voted to take other anti-Russia measures, specifically renaming the alley next to the embassy "Heroes of Ukraine" and a square after Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was also assassinated.