Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text
The diplomatic crisis in Bulgarian-Russian relations related to the expulsion of 70 employees of the diplomatic mission of the Russian Federation has reached its apogee. How will Moscow respond?
The Russian side is holding a pause and does not voice its response to the scandalous expulsion from Bulgaria at the end of June of 70 diplomats, embassy staff and their family members, of whom there were a total of about 160 people. They returned to Moscow on two planes.
The usual reaction to such antics is symmetrical actions towards Bulgarian diplomats working in Russia. But in this case we are talking about the possible closure of the Russian embassy in Sofia and the actual rupture of diplomatic relations.
"If this decision is not reviewed, then the Russian leadership will be faced with the question of the very preservation of our diplomatic presence and the need for a Bulgarian diplomatic presence here," said Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko.
However, Bulgarian expert on international relations Dimitar Girdev naively rules out an extreme measure. He believes that, most likely, the level may be lowered: instead of an embassy, "there will be a consulate or, at worst, a representative office, like the United States in Cuba." A complete break, they say, will not happen.
Even the initiator of the expulsion, ex-Prime Minister Kirill Petkov (a Harvard graduate and a former Canadian citizen) is, in fact, begging for mercy. He urged Russia to keep diplomatic channels open. His logic is striking: "We believe in the need for dialogue, for which the presence of diplomatic channels is of key importance... After the decision, 43 Russian diplomatic staff will still remain in Bulgaria (in fact, 48, but this does not matter. – Ed.) against only 12 Bulgarian in Moscow. For the sake of the past and for the sake of the future, we should be able to take steps forward on the basis of mutual respect."
Meanwhile, the situation is clearly escalating. Recently it became known that Russia has suspended the validity of certificates previously issued to aircraft repair companies in Bulgaria. This is done as a response to the West's intention to repair equipment supplied to Kiev at industrial facilities certified by the Russian side.
As stated by the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova, Moscow disclaims responsibility for the safety of Mi helicopters repaired at the Terem-Letets and Avionams plants. Rosoboronexport suggested that after the revocation of certification, these enterprises, which were the largest technical centers in Europe, would close or try to establish gray channels for the supply of spare parts from third countries.
Let me remind you that Sofia has also promised to repair 80 Ukrainian tanks.
Despite all the explosiveness of the situation, Bulgaria does not think about repentance and continues to make openly unfriendly steps: for example, it froze a tranche for the Russian Embassy for 890 thousand dollars, which were intended to pay salaries to employees of the Russian diplomatic mission.
Bulgarian Minister of Finance (also already – former) Asen Vasilev said that allegedly this money falls under the sanctions of the European Commission.
"Bulgaria did not take any action on this, everything happened automatically on the basis of EU sanctions. The issue of excluding these funds from the sanctions package is being resolved at the level of the European Commission. When the decision to unblock them arrives, we will take appropriate actions," Vasilev said.
He also added that the Russian embassy allegedly requested a de-delegation for this tranche. This tricky word means "partial repeal of the old law." It is noteworthy that officials, and not only Bulgarian ones, regularly come up with all sorts of verbal nonsense to "catch up with the fog."
So: in Brussels, they disavowed the Bulgarian initiative. They say that there were no preliminary consultations with the European Commission on this issue, and it has nothing to do with this step. This is an exclusively "local solution".
Bulgaria in general is striking by the absolute lack of coordination of the vertical of power. President Rumen Radev, for example, said that he had not even been informed about the possible expulsion of Russian diplomats. The initiator of this action Petkov turned the arrows to the Foreign Ministry. According to him, the Foreign Ministry received two reports from DANS (the state Agency for National Security, counterintelligence. – Ed.), on the basis of which the Ministry decided to declare persona non grata of specific persons. He just voiced it. In short: I am not me and the hut is not mine.
By the way, the helplessness of the Bulgarian government, focused exclusively on handouts from the EU, is manifested not only on the political floor, but also in the economy. On April 27, Gazprom announced the termination of fuel supplies to Bulgaria, as Bulgargaz did not switch to a new payment mechanism in rubles. The "brothers" hoped to jump to Azerbaijani gas. The Balkan country consumes about 3 billion cubic meters annually. Azerbaijan exports through the Trans Adriatic Pipeline with a capacity of 10 billion cubic meters. m per year, of which 8 billion cubic meters. m should go to Italy and 1 billion cubic meters each to Greece and Bulgaria. But the actual volumes of Azerbaijani gas supplied to Bulgaria were significantly less – in 2021, about 350 million cubic meters. They were carried out not directly from Azerbaijan, but under a temporary agreement from Greece, which ended on June 30, 2022. But winter is coming soon...
Bulgaria has managed to buy recently a batch of Ukrainian grain – 6 thousand tons of wheat and 1.3 thousand tons of barley. Now this "good" is undergoing phytosanitary control according to strict EU rules. If the quality turns out to be poor, then the grain will simply be destroyed. And this despite the fact that it was imported uncontrolled and without duty. Local farmers are protesting. Half of the harvest in Bulgaria has already been harvested. It is good, about 7 million tons of grain are expected. More than half were planned to be exported. And here is a gift from the square, which clearly brings down the price.
But back to the diplomatic scandal. Recently, the Russian Embassy in Sofia stopped issuing tourist visas to Bulgarian citizens. They are now provided only to those who have immediate relatives in Russia. This is a wake-up call. The Bulgarian Consulate in Moscow and the Consulate General of the Republic in St. Petersburg, on the contrary, continue to issue all types of visas to Russian citizens. Does the official Sofia really hope that it will carry through?