SOFIA -- Bulgaria says it will expel another Russian diplomat after the country's authorities said they suspected six Russian citizens of involvement in a series of blasts that hit four weapons and armament facilities over the past 10 years.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry “declared one more Russian diplomat persona non grata and requested the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation to provide full assistance to the Bulgarian authorities” in their investigation into the blasts, the ministry said in a statement on April 29.
Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva held “an in-depth and serious conversation” with the Russian ambassador in Sofia, the statement read, adding that “Bulgaria wishes to maintain equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia and in this regard insists on active and effective assistance from the Russian side to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incidents on our territory.”
Moscow, which has denied any involvement in the incidents, has vowed to respond to Bulgaria’s move.
Bulgarian prosecutors said on April 28 that that there is a “reasonable assumption” that the blasts that rocked the four warehouses and production facilities in Bulgaria between 2011 and 2020 are connected to the near-fatal poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in 2015 and an explosion at Czech ammunition depots in 2014.
Since October 2019, the EU and NATO member state has expelled seven other Russian diplomats and an employee of Russia’s Embassy over alleged spying and other accusations.
A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, Siika Mileva, told a press conference that three Russians who are being sought over the murder attempt against Gebrev and two other Bulgarian citizens “most likely” were agents of Russia’s GRU military intelligence.
Mileva also said that at least six Russians “identified as, or are believed to be GRU agents” were residing in Bulgaria around the dates of the blasts and the poisonings.
The Czech Republic earlier this month accused Russian GRU military intelligence of being behind an October 2014 explosion in the town of Vrbetice that set off 50 metric tons of stored ammunition and killed two people.
The Czech government later announced the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats it considered to be spies, setting off a string of tit-for-tat moves between Prague and Moscow.
In solidarity, several NATO and EU members have followed by expelling Russian diplomats for alleged spying as well.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on April 29 blasted the Czech and Bulgarian “unacceptable and inflammatory actions,” as well as “completely unacceptable and baseless” accusations against Russia.
Such actions “won’t go unanswered," he told journalists.