Bulgaria expels two Russian diplomats over suspicion of espionage

Just a day earlier prosecutors charges three Russian citizens with the attempted murder of arms dealer Emilian Gebrev

Emilian Gebrev

The Prosecutor’s Office have charged five Russian citizens in a matter of two days: three – for the attempted murder of arms dealer Emilian Gebrev on Thursday; and two diplomats – the next day, Friday – over suspicions of espionage. The moves strike as rather unusual: Bulgaria is the only western country which refused to expel Russian diplomats over the Skripal scandal. As for Gebrev’s attempted murder – prosecutors have been reluctant to acknowledge the striking similarities between his attempted poisoning and the Skripal case. The case in fact was closed and would have remained so if not for Gebrev’s own insistence when he realized he had experienced the same symptoms as Sergey Skripal.

Since the alleged assassination resembles the Skripal poisoning so closely, the investigation is a joint effort between Bulgarian, British and FBI officers. The prosecutors main focus is Gebrev’s arm deals with Ukraine in 2014 and 2015. According to them, this is the motive behind his alleged assassination.

The Bulgarian authorities have not released any information regarding the three Russians charged with the attempted murder of Gebrev. But the British investigative news site Bellingcat and the New York Times have identified the men are members of an elite force within Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU. The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office allege the men have attempted to murder Gebrev between April 28 and May 4, 2015. In this timeframe Gebrev was admitted to hospital with heavy poisoning; his son and business partner were also poisoned in the same way.

One day after the Prosecutor’s Office raised these charges, it went public with an announcement that two Russian diplomats have been spying in the country. According to the Prosecutor’s Office’s statement, one was collecting information on the energy sector, and the other – about Bulgaria’s election process.

Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev had informed Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, who announced the ministry will expel the diplomats. The Russian ambassador, Anatoliy Makarov was summoned later on in the ministry.

The U.S., UK, and Canada commended Bulgaria’s actions in these cases.

Moscow’s official reaction has been moderate but the Russian state news agency TASS cited an unnamed source calling Bulgaria’s actions a ‘performance’. "Sofia looks stupid," the source said according to TASS.

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