SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Two Russian planes left Bulgaria on Sunday with dozens of Russian diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass deportation that has raised tensions between the historically close nations, a diplomat said Russian.
Filip Voskresenski, a senior Russian diplomat, told reporters at the airport in the Bulgarian capital Sofia before flights departed that he was among 70 Russian diplomatic staff declared “persona non grata” last week and ordered to leave the country by the end of Sunday.
The decision to expel Bulgaria was announced by acting Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who took a tough stance against Russia following its February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Petkov, who lost a vote of no confidence on June 22, claimed Moscow had used “hybrid warfare” tactics. bring down his government.
Petkov said Russia would retain 43 of its employees after the expulsion and noted that Bulgaria only had 12 diplomatic employees in Moscow.
“Anyone who works against the interests of Bulgaria will be called upon to return to the country they came from,” he said.
On Friday, Russian Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova gave Bulgaria an ultimatum to reverse its decision and threatened that Moscow would completely sever diplomatic relations.
“I intend to urgently raise before the leaders of my country the issue of the closure of the Russian embassy in Bulgaria, which will inevitably lead to the closure of the Bulgarian diplomatic mission in Moscow,” he said. she said in a statement.
The expulsion, which has severely strained diplomatic relations, is the largest ever recorded number of Russian diplomats expelled by Bulgaria, which is a member of the European Union and NATO. Bulgaria has strongly supported Western sanctions against Moscow since it launched its war against Ukraine more than four months ago.
The European Union, of which Bulgaria has been a member since 2007, responded to Russia’s “unjustified threat” and said it “supports and stands in solidarity with Bulgaria”.
In late April, Russia cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria after authorities refused a request from Moscow to pay gas bills in rubles, the Russian currency. Bulgaria’s defense minister was also ousted in early March for calling Russia’s war a “special military operation”, according to the Kremlin’s preferred description.
Stephen McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania.
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