SOFIA -- Bulgarian authorities have given a Russian diplomat 72 hours to leave Bulgaria, alleging involvement in espionage in the EU and NATO member state.
It is the sixth case of a Russian diplomat or official at the Russian Embassy in Sofia being expelled for suspected espionage since October 2019.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry has declared “persona non grata” a diplomat from the Russian Embassy “due to actions incompatible with his diplomatic status," the ministry tweeted on December 18.
Bulgarian prosecutors issued a separate statement alleging that from 2017 until now the diplomat "has engaged in spying activities, during which he collected military information, including about the numbers of U.S. troops deployed on Bulgarian territory during exercises."
The aim was to transfer this information to Russian military intelligence, prosecutors said, adding that they had evidence the diplomat had been in contact with a Bulgarian citizen with access to classified information to whom money had been offered.
Neither the Foreign Ministry nor prosecutors gave the identity or rank of the diplomat.
However, the Russian Embassy said the diplomat was the military attache, and that Moscow reserved the right to respond to the “groundless” expulsion.
The move “is not conducive to dialogue between our countries in the military field, nor does it help improve stability in the Black Sea region,” it said in a statement on Facebook.
Russia expelled two Bulgarian diplomats in October, nearly three weeks after two staff at the Russian Embassy in Sofia accused of military espionage were told to leave.
After the announcement of the expulsion, the United States and Britain expressed support for Bulgaria's efforts to protect its sovereignty and security.
"As a close partner and strong NATO ally, [Britain] supports [Bulgaria's] determination to defend its citizens, security, and sovereignty against malign threats," the British ambassador to Sofia, Rob Dixon, wrote in a tweet.
“We have in recent weeks and months seen too many examples of Russian officials carrying out aggressive actions, from espionage in Bulgaria to poisoning opponents both at home and abroad,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.