By Georgi Gotev
(EurActiv) — Two Russian government planes boarded the expelled 70 Russian diplomats and their families from Bulgaria on Sunday (3 July) and flew from Sofia to Moscow. According to the Bulgarian press, the total number of passengers who left the country is over 180.
Bulgaria declared the 70 Russian diplomats persona non grata last Thursday, in what is the largest expulsion since the UK expulsed 105 Soviet diplomats during the cold Cold War in 1971.
“We are sending off 70 Russian diplomats. Anyone who works for foreign interests will be called to return to the country they came from,” said outgoing Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who congratulated the Bulgarian secret services for their good work.
Reportedly, not all 70 persons expulsed are diplomats, some being technical staff such as cooks, drivers or gardeners.
Among the expelled Russian diplomats who left for Moscow today was the number two of the Russian embassy Philip Voskresensky, who said that none of the Russians “expelled illegally, arrogantly” worked against the Republic of Bulgaria.
“No one can spoil Russian-Bulgarian relations, no one,” said Vozkresenski, speaking at the airport, as quoted by the daily SEGA.
The spokesperson of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said that Bulgaria has reduced “to a minimum, even to zero”, the possibility of the functioning of the Russian embassy in Sofia.
Earlier, the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko warned that Moscow must decide whether to keep or close the Russian diplomatic presence in Bulgaria.
Former defence minister Todor Tagarev commented on national radio that the political class in Bulgaria was still divided on issues such as Russia and the military aid to Ukraine.
Indeed, in the Bulgarian parliament, the Bulgarian socialist party (BSP), a coalition partner in Petkov’s cabinet, is advocating a more balanced position concerning the war in Ukraine and is firmly opposed to Bulgaria sending weapons to Ukraine.
In the opposition, an openly pro-Russian force, ‘Vazrazhdane’ (Revival), condemned the foreign policy moves by Kiril Petkov, on Russia and North Macedonia, as “national treason’.
Politicians from BSP have said that the expulsion of the 70 Russian diplomats wasn’t based on solid evidence and warned that the move would backfire.
“The division is also seen with regard to the expulsion of 70 Russian diplomats”, Tagarev said. According to him, Bulgarian society continues to be divided along the east-west axis.
However, Tagarev expects that the expulsion of diplomats could have “a healing effect” on Bulgaria’s relations with Russia because, in his words, Russia has never treated Bulgaria as a sovereign country.
He also commented on the current political situation.
Petkov’s force, “We continue the change”, has until Friday to attempt to form a new cabinet with the support of independent MPs.
“The question before the new government should be, do you want us to be part of Europe, or do you want us to go to Asia? Do you want corruption or good governance?”
Tagarev warned that if the attempt to form a cabinet failed, the caretaker government appointed by President Rumen Radev would block sending weapons and ammunition to Ukraine.
“This would be a heavy blow against the image of Bulgaria for decades to come,” said Tagarev.