SOFIA -- Bulgaria says it has detained and charged six people suspected of passing classified information to Russia.
A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, Siika Mileva, said on March 19 that the suspects were part of an espionage group led by "a former senior member of the Defense Minister's Military Intelligence Service.”
Russia's embassy in Sofia responded by saying the move was a consequence of "incessant attempts to drive a wedge in the Russian-Bulgarian dialogue and once again demonize our country." It did not say who was responsible for the alleged anti-Russian efforts.
In a Facebook statement, the embassy said its understanding was that Bulgarian prosecutors said their investigation was not yet complete and the Russian side hoped "speculation" on the case would cease in the absence of conclusions on Sofia's side.
The Russian Embassy statement said that it expected "the judicial investigation [to] be conducted on a depolitical, impartial, and objective basis in strict compliance with the norms of Bulgarian and international legislation."
The group purportedly recruited Bulgarian officials who had access to classified information about Bulgaria, NATO, and the EU, Mileva said, adding that his wife had dual Russian-Bulgarian citizenship and "played the role of intermediary” between the ex-officer and an employee of the Russian Embassy.
She said that it was "the first time in our recent history" that such a spy ring had been uncovered.
The Foreign Ministry welcomed the disclosure of “another” spying case “for the benefit of the Russian Federation.”
Relations between Sofia and Moscow have been hit by several spy scandals in recent years.
Since October 2019, the EU and NATO member state has expelled five Russian diplomats and employees of the Russian Embassy accused of conducting intelligence work.
The latest case “is of particular importance for the security of Bulgaria, the EU, NATO, and the United States," according to Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev.
The Defense Ministry said two members of Bulgaria’s armed forces were among those detained.
Military prosecutor Elin Aleksov said the spy group had been active for a long time, collecting technological and military secrets.
The action to detain the suspects began in several locations in Sofia on March 18.
Investigators said police conducted random inspections of cars leaving the capital on the Trakia highway to prevent one of the suspects from fleeing.
The man was eventually arrested near the Russian Embassy, Mileva said.