SOFIA -- Bulgaria’s government has given two Russian diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, after the authorities uncovered the latest in a string of Moscow-linked spy scandals.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry declared the Russian diplomats “personae non gratae” on March 22 because they had carried out activities “incompatible” with their diplomatic status.
The Russian Embassy called the decision “groundless” and said that Moscow “reserves the right to retaliate.”
It expressed "regret that once again this unfounded action by the Bulgarian authorities will not contribute to constructive dialogue between Russia and Bulgaria."
Bulgaria has close cultural, historical, and economic ties with Russia, the country's main energy partner. But relations between Sofia and Moscow have been hit by several spy scandals in recent years.
On March 19, Bulgarian authorities in the NATO member state announced they had busted an espionage group passing military secrets to Russia.
Prosecutors said six people, including former and current military intelligence officers, were detained and charged for passing classified information about Bulgaria, NATO, and the EU to the Russian Embassy in Sofia.
The Sofia Military District Court has ordered five of them remanded in custody, while another suspect was released on bail, according to BTA news agency.
Since October 2019, the EU and NATO member state has expelled five diplomats and employees of the Russian Embassy accused of conducting intelligence work.