Bulgaria has expelled two Russian diplomats accused of military espionage and ordered them to leave the country within 72 hours, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said on September 23.
"Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry has declared two Russian diplomats 'personae non gratae' and has informed the Russian embassy with a diplomatic note," a ministry spokesman said.
State prosecutors launched a case against the two suspects at the request of the State Agency for National Security (SANS), which alleged the two suspects collected secret state information on Bulgaria’s military modernization plans and preparedness.
Criminal proceedings could not be brought against the suspects because they have diplomatic immunity.
"Their goal was to transfer the collected information, including official and state secrets, to Russian military intelligence in Moscow,” prosecutors said.
The Russian Embassy in Sofia said there was no evidence to justify the "unreasonable expulsion" of its diplomats.
"The Russian side reserves the right to take 'mirrored' measures in response," the embassy said in a statement on Facebook. "No evidence proving that they were engaged in some activities inconsistent with their status has been provided," it said.
Bulgarian investigators said the espionage, which took place between 2016 and the present, included the use of financial inducements to recruit Bulgarian nationals with access to sensitive information
Bulgaria is a NATO member with generally good ties with Russia, which supplies it with much of its energy.
It is not the first spying case to have marred Sofia's relations with Moscow this year.
Two Russian diplomats were also declared personae non gratae in January for allegedly pursuing classified information on Bulgaria's electoral architecture.
Sofia also declined to grant a visa to a Russian defense attache choice in December 2019.