World (AP)

Bulgaria expels a Russian and 2 Belarusian clerics accused of spying for Moscow | AP News

Bulgaria expels a Russian and 2 Belarusian clerics accused of spying for Moscow | AP News

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgaria is expelling one Russian and two Belarusian nationals for carrying out activities against Bulgaria’s national security and interests, authorities said on Thursday.

The country’s agency for national security said in a press release that the three had worked to “purposefully influence the social and political processes in Bulgaria in favor of Russian geopolitical interests.”

It added that the three have been stripped of the right of residence and barred from entering Bulgaria for a period of five years. The statement did not elaborate and provided only initials of the three.

The Russian Embassy in Sofia reacted angrily in a Facebook post to the expulsions, calling the move a “rude, blatant action by Bulgarian authorities.” It sad the three expelled were members of the clergy — the prior 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,” the embassy said. “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 added that the “responsibility for the rapid degradation of bilateral co-operation lies entirely with the Bulgarian side”.

Last year, Bulgaria expelled 70 Russian diplomatic staff in a move that severely strained diplomatic ties between the two countries, which were close allies during communist times. It was the greatest ever number of Russian diplomats expelled by Bulgaria, a member of the European Union and NATO.

Bulgaria has strongly backed the West’s sanctions against Moscow since Russia launched its war on Ukraine.