site.btaUPDATED Bulgaria Expels One Russian, Two Belarusian Nationals for Implementing Russia's Hybrid Strategy
One Russian and two Belarusian nationals have been expelled from Bulgaria, stripped of the right of residence and barred from entering Bulgaria for a period of five years by order of the Chairperson of the State Agency for National Security (SANS), SANS said in a press release here on Thursday.
The coercive administrative measures were imposed in connection with an activity carried out by the three individuals against Bulgaria's national security and interest, the Agency specified. "Information has been acquired about actions by the persons concerned involving the implementation of various elements of the hybrid strategy of the Russian Federation for purposeful impacting of socio-political processes in the Republic of Bulgaria in favour of Russian geopolitical interests," the press release reads.
SANS identified the three expelees by their initials: Russian national N.Z. and Belarusian nationals E.P. and V.B.
The Russian Embassy in Sofia said in a Facebook post on Thursday that "the Bulgarian authorities took the rude, blatant action of expelling from the country the rector of the Podvorye of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia, Archimandrite Vassian, and two ministers of the Church of St. Nicholas of Myra."
"We are indignant at the fact and format of the decision taken by the Bulgarian side. It is obvious that the current Bulgarian leadership has set itself the task of destroying not only the socio-political, cultural and humanitarian ties between our states, but also of severing relations between the sister Russian and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches, and of embittering the Russian and Bulgarian peoples against each other. It is especially telling that this step is taken on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy and pure day for the parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church.
"We emphasize that responsibility for the rapid degradation of bilateral co-operation lies entirely with the Bulgarian side," the Embassy said.
Archimandrite Vassian's secular name is Nikolay Zmeev and he is the representative of the Russian Patriarch in Bulgaria.
The news of the expulsions triggered comments.
Ekaterina Zaharieva of GERB-UDF, Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on Foreign Policy and former foreign minister: "The [security] services are doing their job to protect Bulgaria's national interest. It is no secret that, regrettably, the Russian Orthodox Church is being used for Russia's geopolitical interests - for hybrid actions, for the expansion of influence - this is part of the long-term strategy of Putin and his regime. The Russian Orthodox Church and most of the Russian clergy speak as politicians, not as clerics. This is not right."
Kiril Petkov, Co-chair of CC-DB: "This is a signal that the Bulgarian state assesses the risks and already acts when it is evident that foreign interests are beginning to influence the national interest."
Deyan Nikolov MP of Vazrazhdane: "It is insulting for the Bulgarian [security] services to act on information from the Macedonian security services. For me, this is a false rumor, which is yet another attempt to tune public opinion. I look forward to hearing the arguments in detail. Most such events are not particularly well reasoned. How exactly can a cleric threaten Bulgaria's national security? We are entering a very delicate situation here because spirituality has been one of Bulgaria’s pillars for the past centuries and one cannot throw accusations like that. There is no way that a person who is a clergyman, an official of the Russian Church in our country, can participate in so-called "hybrid" wars. I do not see how the Russian Church can have any influence on Bulgarian society."