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Bulgaria said it may expel two Russian diplomats it accuses of espionage, demonstrating an unusually tough stance toward the Kremlin in the run-up to talks with the U.S. over energy and security.
A European Union and NATO member, the Balkan country is trying to balance the priorities of its Western allies with religious, historical and cultural ties to neighboring Russia, which is also its main energy supplier.
Prosecutors said Friday that two Russian citizens spied on elections and the energy industry, but couldn’t be charged because of diplomatic immunity.
The pair -- a first secretary in the Russian embassy’s consular department in Sofia and a diplomat in Russia’s commercial representation office -- will “most likely” be declared persona non grata, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva told reporters.
The Russian ambassador will also be summoned Friday, she said. The embassy in Sofia hasn’t received any official requests from prosecutors regarding the diplomats, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
The potential expulsions come a day after Bulgaria charged three Russians for the attempted murder of an arms dealer, his son and an employee of his company in 2015, a case that’s linked to the poisoning attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the U.K.
The motivation for this week’s moves is unclear. Bulgaria has made a point of not censuring Russia in the past, failing to join most EU states in expelling its diplomats in the aftermath of the Skripal case.
But Bulgaria is facing U.S. pressure over a pipeline to help transfer Russian gas to central Europe. Energy Ministry officials are expected to hold direct talks on purchases of American liquefied natural gas this month as Bulgaria seeks to diversify its sources.
--With assistance from Stepan Kravchenko.
To contact the reporter on this story: Slav Okov in Sofia at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Irina Vilcu at email@example.com, Andrew Langley, Andras Gergely
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