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Bulgaria Expels Russian Church Clerics for Espionage

Bulgaria on Thursday expelled the abbot of the Russian Orthodox Church, Archimandrite Vasian, as well as two other clerics of the St. Nikolay Mirlikiskii Chudtovorets church in Sofia, known locally as the ‘Russian Church’.

The information was initially confirmed by the Russian embassy in Sofia, which condemned the expulsions.

“We are outraged by the fact and the way the decision was taken by the Bulgarian side,” the embassy said in a statement.

Bulgarian officials have yet to comment, but the State Agency for National Security later announced that three individuals, one with Russian citizenship and two from Belarus, have been expelled for using “hybrid strategies” to sustain Russia’s influence and geopolitical interests.

Archimandrite Vasian’s interests seem not have been limited to Bulgaria. According to North Macedonia media, he was also banned from entering North Macedonia on September 15.

In 2022, former prime minister and We Continue the Change party leader Kiril Petkov said Russia’s meddling was a key factor in the poor diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

Sofia has expelled more than 100 alleged spies in recent years while also initiating arrests of a number of Bulgarians accused of collaborating with and passing sensitive information to Russian intelligence.

There have also been claims of Russian influence on the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the successor to the repressive Communist Party, and the far-right Revival, both of which have been outspoken in their hostility for the European Union and United States.

On Thursday, Revival staged a protest of several hundred people in Sofia, demanding the resignation of the cabinet because of the planned adoption of the euro, as well as the government’s decision to lift the ban on grain imports from Ukraine.

Bulgarians accused of collaborating with Moscow are also the focus of a legal case in Britain.

On Thursday, British prosecutors said they will charge five Bulgarian nationals with conspiracy to conduct espionage in the UK.

The five suspects accused of spying for Russia are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on September 26.

Source : BalkanInsight