Wed, 29 Jan 2020

Russia says it is expelling a Bulgarian diplomat five weeks after Sofia declined a visa to the incoming Russian defense attache amid an espionage scandal.

Russian authorities informed Bulgaria's ambassador to Moscow, Atanas Krastin, that the diplomat must leave Russia within the next 24 hours, citing the 'principle of reciprocity,' the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on December 5.

Russian media quoted unnamed sources as confirming that the government had declared an unnamed Bulgarian Embassy official as 'persona non grata.'

On October 30 Bulgaria said it had denied a long-term visa to the incoming defense attache at the Russian Embassy in Sofia, a day after expelling another Russian diplomat on suspicion of spying.

Earlier, Bulgarian prosecutors charged Nikolai Malinov, a former Bulgarian lawmaker and the head of a pro-Russian lobby group in Bulgaria, with money laundering and handing over state secrets to two Russian-based organizations that have close ties to the Kremlin and Russia's secret services.

Malinov, who has denied the accusations, was granted permission to travel to Moscow in early November, where he was awarded the Order of Friendship by President Vladimir Putin.

Bulgaria, a loyal Moscow ally during communist times, became a member of NATO in 2004 and joined the European Union in 2007.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, TASS, and RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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