Direct air traffic between Bulgaria and Russia is no longer possible due to the sanctions, but a special flight was exempted on Sunday. Seventy Russian diplomats and their families boarded a plane for their homeland. The outgoing Prime Minister, Kirill Petkov, had briefed them on the door to espionage activities.
This angered the activist, the Russian ambassador in Sofia, who threatened to close her embassy, and the Bulgarian embassy in Moscow. But for now, many Russian diplomats are still behind, because Russia had appointed quite a few diplomats to relatively small Bulgaria (6.5 million people): 118 – after deducting the 10 diplomats that Bulgaria showed the door already in March.
The reason for such a strong Russian diplomatic presence is that Russia has traditionally enjoyed a good reputation among its fraternal Slavic people, and Moscow sees Bulgaria as an equally important weak link: it is a relatively influential member state of NATO and the European Union. .
But love returned on both sides after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, Russian President Putin still had the sympathy of 70 percent of Bulgarians, compared to 29 percent in March of this year.
On the contrary, Moscow was not at all satisfied with the Petkov government. The liberal Petkov followed the policy of EU sanctions, provided humanitarian and military support to Ukraine, and also called for a stronger NATO presence on its territory. All this led to Russia completely shutting off the gas tap from Bulgaria at the end of April.
Not everyone in his four-party coalition thanked Petkov for this pro-European course. Two weeks ago, his government collapsed amid rising tensions, the immediate cause being the accession to the European Union that neighboring North Macedonia wanted.
All the while, the Russian ambassador in Sofia, Eleonora Mitrofanova, is making efforts to consolidate political relations in Bulgaria in a non-diplomatic way. For example, she publicly described Petkov as an “employee of the United States,” and said that his government lacked the support of his people, and that he turned his country into a “Euro-Atlantic nation.” The embassy also called on Bulgarians to provide financial support for the Russian campaign in Ukraine.
This weekend Petkov’s chief of staff Lena Borislavova accused the Russians of pushing many politicians, journalists and analysts who appear in the media to convey a pro-Russian message. Bulgarian intelligence would have known this some time ago, but they did not say how many people were involved, let alone any.
Now that the Petkov government has been forced to resign, Bulgaria may soon take a more pro-Russian path. Petkov and his coalition parties have vowed to spread corruption in the country. For many Bulgarians, the embodiment of this is former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who was in power for a long time until 2021. It was his party in Gerb that last month put forward a motion of censure against Petkov.
New elections may be held in September. The question is whether these will provide more stability in the country, which has already gone to the polls three times last year. In any case, Russia is unlikely to stop trying to sow discord, even if it has to do the job with half the number of diplomats.
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