If we look at history, there are not many cases in which relations between Bulgaria and Russia at the state level were as bad as they are at the moment.
The war in Ukraine and the wider conflict between the West and Russia have led to a situation unprecedented in the last 30 years, in which Moscow and Sofia are on the verge of severing diplomatic relations.
The reason is the decision of our government to expel from the country 70 people from the diplomatic and technical staff of the representations of the Russian Federation with the accusation that the people in question are connected to foreign services and have worked against the interests of Bulgaria.
A request was also made for the temporary closure of the Consulate General in Ruse.
As a response, Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova delivered a verbal note to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with which, in an ultimatum, a request was made to cancel the decision of expulsion by 12:00 p.m. on July 1, 2022.
This never happened, and Mitrofanova announced that she would suggest that her country’s leadership consider the issue of closing the embassy without delay.
Severing Diplomatic Relations
In diplomatic terms, Mitrofanova’s rhetoric is an open threat to sever diplomatic relations between the two countries. But what does that mean exactly?
In essence, the act itself is not spelled out in detail in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1964.
However, it regulates what obligations and rights the parties have, with Article 45 stating that in the event of a break in diplomatic relations or even an armed conflict, the receiving state must provide assistance for the rapid departure of the employees of the diplomatic mission and their families, as well as respect and protect the premises of the representation together with its property and archives.
Also, “the sending State may entrust the protection of its interests and the interests of its nationals to a third State acceptable to the receiving State.”
In the next article 46, it is written that “with the prior consent of the receiving country and at the request of a third country that is not represented in the receiving country, the sending country may take upon itself temporarily the protection of the interests of this third country and its citizens.”
Generally speaking, they cut off all official contacts at the government level, and the diplomatic missions, along with all their staff, withdraw.
This directly affects citizens who have no one to turn to for support, protection or services. Therefore, third-party mediation is sometimes, but not necessarily, used, and they also serve as mediators in any subsequent negotiations between governments.
Diplomatic Relations Between Bulgaria And Russia
In modern history, Bulgaria and Russia established diplomatic relations for the first time on July 7, 1879, and since that date, they have been severed several times.
On 11.6.1886 Russia terminated diplomatic relations with Bulgaria. After which there was a 10-year gap in relations between the two countries. This decision came as a shock to Bulgarians – just 8 years before that, the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) concluded and Bulgaria was free from Ottoman rule thanks to Russia’s intervention. But things become quite understandable if the series of facts and events in the implementation of Russian policy, before and after the Liberation, are traced.
The anti-Bulgarian policy of the Russian Empire was legally fixed immediately after the April Uprising when an agreement was signed in Reichstadt in 1876. In it, a commitment was made not to create a united and strong Bulgarian state. It was for this purpose that the new country was torn apart at the Berlin Congress. This agreement was kept confidential. Bulgarians were not allowed in Berlin, but then the “Russian concern” for the ideals of “San Stefano” Bulgaria was suggested. Blame for the taken Bulgarian territories was assigned to the “other bad Great Powers”. And the Bulgarians believed the “liberator” Russia, having forgotten its role in the struggle for church independence.
After the war, the period was marked by direct Russian intervention in the management and rule of the Bulgarian Principality. This is how the real Russian goal for waging the war was gradually revealed – the intention to make Bulgaria a de facto Russian Danube region or “Zadunai” province of the empire.
Relations became strained when the Bulgarians themselves carried out the Unification – the first step towards their new ideal of uniting the fragmented parts of the country after the Berlin Congress. Russia strongly opposed this move and encouraged the Ottoman Empire to reclaim Eastern Rumelia. It also encouraged Serbia to attack Bulgaria which happened on November 2, 1885, when King Milan declared war on the Principality. Russia then withdrew its military officers from the Bulgarian army and constantly threatened punishment. When the Serbian army suffered a decisive defeat at Slivnica five days later, Austria-Hungary and Russia, the signatories of the Treaty of Reichstadt, saved Serbia by threatening to intervene against Bulgaria.
On August 9, 1886, at Russia’s suggestion and organization, with the direct assistance of the Russian military attaché in Sofia, a group of officers carried out a coup. They arrested the Bulgarian prince Alexander and took him out of the country to Russia. Shortly after, the perpetrators of the coup were taken into custody and the prince was returned to power. Then the Russian Tsar declared that Prince Alexander’s stay in Bulgaria was unwanted by Russia and he left the country on August 26, 1886 never to return again.
Immediately after these events, on September 15, 1886, the Russian imperial envoy to Bulgaria, General Nikolai Kaulbars, delivered a note to the Bulgarian authorities. In it, he insisted on the release of those arrested in the failed pro-Russian coup and the postponement of the elections for the Grand National Assembly, which had to choose the new prince (knyaz). This was an unacceptable external interference combined with the behavior not of a diplomat but of a Governor-General to a Russian province. The first request was fulfilled, but his entire stay here was marked by Russian diplomatic failure, which raised the prestige of Bulgaria in Europe.
When on September 28, 1886, the legitimate Regency and the government of Radoslavov held elections for the General Assembly, Russia refused to recognize the results of the vote. In October 1886, Russia sent two battleships to the Gulf of Varna. Simultaneously with this demonstration, it organized and assisted in the outbreak of anti-government riots in Burgas, Sliven and other places in the country.
On October 29, 1886, the Grand National Assembly elected Prince Valdemar of Denmark as Bulgarian prince (knyaz) but the invitation was rejected at Russia’s insistence two days later by Valdemar’s father, King Christian IX. In November 1886, Russia proposed Nikolai Mingreli as Bulgarian prince. He was the last ruler of the Principality of Mingrelia and had grown up in the court of the Russian emperor in Petersburg. In 1857 a peasant uprising broke out in Mingrelia, which was used by the Russian authorities, who effectively liquidated the independent Georgian power. In 1867, Mingrelia was legally included in the composition of the Russian Empire. Nikolai Mingreli officially renounced his ruling rights in exchange for 1 million rubles and a prince (knyaz) title. This was probably going to happen to Bulgaria as well so the proposal was rejected, both by the regency in Bulgaria and by the Great Powers.
As an end to these events, exactly one year and two months after the Unification, on November 6, 1886, Russia broke off diplomatic relations with Bulgaria, using as a pretext an incident with an employee of the Russian consulate in Plovdiv.
First World War
In 1915, during the First World War, in which Bulgaria participated on the side of the Triple Alliance, diplomatic relations were severed again.
In the war itself, Bulgarian tsarist troops were engaged in battles with Russian imperial troops in Dobrudja. On this occasion, in 1916, Ivan Vazov wrote the poem “To the Russian Warriors”, through which he retreated from his Russophile positions that he had until then.
The RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), as the Russian state was called after the October Revolution, was established in April 1918 and dissolved in September 1918.
The diplomatic relations established under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (from March 3, 1918) were not actually implemented, although the head of the special mission of Bulgaria, S. Chaprashikov, was in the RSFSR for some time and managed to present his credentials to Y.M. Sverdlov. On November 13, 1918, according to the decision of the VTsIK (All-Russian Central Executive Committee), the Treaty of Brest and all agreements resulting from it were annulled.
It is worth mentioning that according to the treaty’s clauses, Russia was recognized as defeated and capitulated to the Central Powers (including Bulgaria).
40 years after the end of the Russo-Turkish war and the Treaty of San Stefano, defeated Russia recognized Bulgaria’s right to live independently and nationally united.
Thus, Bulgaria acquired a new historical date of March 3, 1918. The date on which her efforts for real liberation from the “liberators” and within her ethnic boundaries end.
All in all, during the war, diplomatic relations were established and severed two times but stayed severed for 16 years. In 1934, the Kingdom of Bulgaria established diplomatic relations with the USSR. They were at the level of missions (with an exchange of telegrams between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the USSR dated July 11 and 23, 1934).
Second World War
In 1934, the Kingdom of Bulgaria established diplomatic relations with the USSR, but ten years later, on September 5, 1944, they would be severed by the USSR, when it would also declare war on the Kingdom of Bulgaria, although Bulgaria had already declared that it will join the Anti-Hitler coalition.
After the outbreak of the war, although an ally of Germany, Bulgaria continued to maintain diplomatic relations with the USSR and did not send regular troops to the Eastern Front. Tsar Boris III did not allow even a legion of volunteers to go to the front (similar to the Spanish Blue Division), although 1,500 requests were received at the German Legation in Sofia from young Bulgarian soldiers and legionnaires who wanted to fight against Bolshevism
On September 9, 1944, the USSR invaded the territory of the Kingdom of Bulgaria, and on the same day, a coup d’état was carried out, which brought the government of the Patriotic Front to power.
After an exchange of letters on August 14 and 16, 1945, relations between the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the USSR were restored.
In reality, relations between the USSR and Bulgaria actively began to develop in the period after September 9, 1944. According to the held Yalta Conference, Bulgaria in the post-war world order was in the Soviet sphere of influence and, accordingly, in the Eastern Bloc. Bulgarian troops together with the Third Ukrainian Front of the Soviet Army participated in the hostilities against Nazi Germany in 1944-1945. This was an important trump card in the hands of Soviet and Bulgarian diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference held in 1946-1947, at which the USSR declared itself in protection of the Bulgarian national interests and countered the Greek demands for the accession of the Rhodope Mountains supported by the USA and Great Britain. Already in August 1945, a Bulgarian-Soviet treaty of friendship and friendship was signed. This was followed by the signing of the treaty for the accession of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria to the Council for Economic Mutual Assistance (CMEA) in 1949 in Moscow and the accession of Bulgaria to the Warsaw Pact signed in 1955. During the years until 1989, Bulgaria was the most loyal Soviet ally (satellite), both in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans.
After The Fall Of Communism In Bulgaria
On October 23, 1991, a Protocol on establishing diplomatic relations between the RSFSR and Bulgaria was signed in Moscow. However, the agreements resulting from the Protocol did not develop. The countries did not exchange diplomatic representations, and Russia’s interests in Bulgaria were represented by the Embassy of the USSR.
On December 25, 1991, the RSFSR announced that it was renaming itself into the Russian Federation, and on January 13, 1992, the Russian Federation announced that it continued to exercise the rights and fulfill the obligations arising from international treaties concluded on behalf of the former USSR. In December 1991, the Embassy of the USSR was transformed into the Embassy of Russia.
31 years later relations between Bulgaria and Russia are at an all-time low. In the coming days, we will find out if the Russian embassy in Sofia will close or if diplomatic relations will be severed for the fifth time.