Bulgaria Declares Russian Diplomats Persona Non Grata

  • The Russian diplomats are accused of espionage.
  • Earlier this year, two other Russian nationals were declared persona non grata by the Bulgarian government due to the espionage activities.
  • Since 2019, there have been eleven instances of Russian diplomats being declared persona non grata by a myriad of nations.

On September 23, Bulgaria ordered two Russian diplomats to leave the capital city, Sophia, within 72 hours. The Kremlin made a statement that there will be retaliation for such actions. Additionally, Russia says the move damages the relationship between the two countries.

In diplomacy, a persona non grata (Latin: “person not welcome”, plural: personae non gratae) is a foreign person whose entering or remaining in a particular country is prohibited by that country’s government. Being so named is the most serious form of censure that a country can apply to foreign diplomats who are otherwise protected by diplomatic immunity from arrest and other normal kinds of prosecution.

The Head of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Leonid Slutsky, said:

“Sofia’s demarche to expel Russian diplomats, of course, will not remain without a symmetrical response from the Russian side. It remains to be regretted that Russian-Bulgarian relations are significantly damaged in this way.”

Slutsky also stated that “Bulgaria, by announcing the expulsion of two Russian diplomats, added to the list of States that inflate spy scandals against Russia out of the blue.” The deputy also noted that the statements “of the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s office and the foreign Ministry are written as if under a carbon copy.”  He added:

“The Czech Republic, Norway, Slovakia, and Austria are countries that took similar actions during 2020 with almost the same reasoning. I do not rule out that all this is part of a strategy to further demonize Russia on the European continent.”

Furthermore, two journalists have been declared persona non grata. The diplomatic department clarified that on Wednesday it received a letter from the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office with a decision to stop the investigation of the criminal case against two diplomats who collected classified information pertaining to national security.

Bulgaria’s federal prosecutor’s office said that the two  Russian diplomats  were engaged in espionage in Bulgaria since 2016. Specifically, they collected information for Russian military intelligence about plans to modernize the Bulgarian army and the technical suitability of its military equipment. Hence, it would classify their activities as espionage.

Bulgaria–Russia relations are the diplomatic relations between the countries of Bulgaria and Russia. Following woes over energy projects included the cancelled South Stream pipeline and frozen Belene Nuclear Power Plant project, as well as the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, relations deteriorated.

Moreover, there are allegations that Russian GRU officers poisoned three Bulgarian nationals in 2015 via the use of a Novichok-type substance. The expose investigation was done by the Bellingcat.

Additionally, two Russian nationals were ordered to leave in January on accusations of espionage as well. This would mean that the Russian diplomatic mission had four employees removed within a year from Bulgaria.

Since 2019, there have been eleven instances of Russian diplomats being declared persona non grata by a myriad of nations. Just last month, Norway ordered one of the Russian diplomats to be expelled from their country.

In retaliation, the Norwegian ambassador was invited to the Russian Foreign Ministry and informed that, as a response, one of the senior diplomats of the Norwegian Embassy was also declared “persona non grata.”

Overall, it is highly likely that Russia will expel two Bulgarian diplomats in retaliation. The announcement would be finalized within a week. However, the Kremlin could retaliate economically in the future too.

President Vladimir Putin does not forget, nor does he forgive, anyone who crosses him. Thus far, Russia has not been able to have a symbiotic relationship with Bulgaria.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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