Bulgaria, Sophia (AP) — Two Russian planes set to leave Bulgaria on Sunday, with dozens of people Russian diplomats and their families have been banished in large numbers, according to Russian diplomats, with soaring tensions among historically close countries.
Russian official Philip Boscresensky told journalists at the airport in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, last week that he was "persona non grata" and ordered 70 people to leave the country by Monday. He said he was one of the Russian diplomats.
The decision to expel Bulgaria was announced by Acting Prime Minister Kirill Petkov, who showed a strong stance against Russia after the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. On June 22, Moscow claimed to have used "hybrid warfare" tactics to destroy the government.
Petkov said Russia would retain 43 employees after its expulsion, and that Bulgaria had only 12 diplomatic staff in Moscow.
"Anyone who goes against the interests of Bulgaria will be called back to the country they came from," he said.
On Friday, Russian ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova issued an ultimatum to Bulgaria, overturning that decision and threatening Moscow to cut off diplomatic relations altogether.
"I will urgently raise the issue of the closure of the Russian embassy in Bulgaria before the leaders of my country. This is inevitably Bulgarian diplomacy. It will lead to the closure of the delegation. Moscow, "she said in a statement.
The expulsion, which has severely strained diplomatic relations, is the largest number of Russian diplomats in history exiled by the European Union and NATO member Bulgaria. Bulgaria has strongly supported western sanctions against Moscow since it began its war with Ukraine more than four months ago.
The European Union, which Bulgaria has been a member of since 2007, responded to Russia's "injustice threat" and said it "fully supports and solidarity with Bulgaria."
In late April, Russia cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria after authorities rejected Moscow's request to pay for gas in the Russian currency, the ruble. The Bulgarian defense minister was also banished in early March for calling the Russian war a "special military operation," the Kremlin liked.
Stephen McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania.