SOFIA -- A Russian diplomat has left Bulgaria after the Eastern European country’s prosecutor launched an investigation into potential spying operations.
The unnamed diplomat, who is one of nine first secretaries serving at the Russian Embassy in Sofia, is suspected of gathering classified information, according to an October 28 statement by the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office.
The Russian diplomat regularly met with high-ranking Bulgarian officials, including one with access to classified information about Bulgaria, NATO, and European Union affairs. The diplomat intended to hand the information to a foreign country, the prosecutor’s office said.
Bulgaria became a full member of NATO in March 2004 and joined the European Union in 2007.
The nation’s importance to NATO has grown since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backed separatists in the Donbas. Bulgaria borders the Black Sea along with Ukraine, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Georgia.
The West has also become more concerned about Russian influence in Eastern Europe amid worsening relations between Washington and Moscow.
Bulgaria in September charged Nikolai Malinov, a former parliamentary deputy from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) who now heads a pro-Russian nongovernmental organization, with spying and laundering money for Russian organizations.
The country also declared politically connected Russian businessman Konstanin Malofeyev persona non grata amid allegations of spying.