The Bulgarian ambassador to Moscow, Atanas Krastin, was handed a note declaring two Bulgarian diplomats from the Bulgarian embassy in the Russian capital “persona non grata. The measures are in response to Sofia’s decision to expel two employees of the Moscow Trade Representation in Bulgaria in September.

The announcement by the Russian Foreign Ministry came early this afternoon and was expected. Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the information, but did not provide details.

The statement of the Russian diplomacy states that on October 12, the Bulgarian ambassador to Moscow Atanas Krastin was handed a note declaring two Bulgarian embassy officials “persona non grata”. The actions are a retaliatory “mirror” measure in response to “Bulgaria’s unmotivated decision to expel two employees of Russia’s Trade Representation in Sofia.”

The two expelled Russian diplomats are Sergei Nikolashin and Vadim Bikov.

In September, the fourth case of diplomatic tension between Sofia and Moscow in the last year flared up. On September 23, Bulgaria declared two two Russian employees at the embassy in Sofia persona non grata for alleged espionage following a signal from the State Agency for National Security (SANS) and an investigation by the prosecutor’s office. Russia’s foreign ministry then described the allegations as “fabricated” and promised retaliation.

At the end of January this year, the first secretary in the consular department and an employee of the Trade Representation of Russia in Bulgaria were expelled after a signal from SANS that an attempt had been made to obtain information that was a state secret.

On September 10, 2019, the leader of the Russophile National Movement, Nikolai Malinov, was charged with espionage. Former KGB general Leonid Reshetnikov and businessman Konstantin Malofeev were banned from entering Bulgaria for 10 years each. Malinov later received the Druzhba Order from Vladimir Putin.

On October 28, the prosecutor’s office announced that an investigation into espionage was under way against the first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Sofia.