Date: 20 March 2021

Bulgaria Breaks Up Russian Spy Ring

This is another spying scandal between Bulgaria and Russia. The country’s counterintelligence service and the prosecutor’s office detained six Bulgarians who had access to classified information. One of them is a former high-ranking military intelligence officer accused of being in charge of the spy network. Bulgaria said it was the first time in its recent history that such a ring had been uncovered. The spy scandal may drive a wedge in Russia-Bulgaria ties, but it is also politically imbued. The discovery comes just before parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on April 4, where Borisov’s government will have two challengers: the pro-Russian left-wing party and the incumbent president Rumen Radev who also shows pro-Russian sympathies.

SOURCE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Bulgarian officers arrested members of the ring in the evening of March 18 in Sofia and on a highway where one of the suspects was trying to flee. He was detained near the embassy of Russia by the State National Security Agency (DANS). Prosecutors on March 19 informed on the arrest of six people accused of passing classified information to Russia. The leader of the spy was a former officer of a Bulgarian military intelligence agency, whose wife, a joint Russian-Bulgarian national, played the role of intermediary between the ex-officer and the embassy of the Russian Federation. A video of a meeting between some of the alleged spies was shown at the press conference by the prosecution in which he visits the embassy. Many years ago the leader of the spy ring graduated from a Moscow academy of intelligence. The group purportedly recruited Bulgarian officials who had access to classified information about Bulgaria, NATO, and the EU. Members of the spy network were paid between €1,000 and €1,500 per month. Military prosecutor Elin Aleksov said the spy group had been active for a long time. The spy ring includes military intelligence officers. Six of the six arrested were held in custody while one has been released after having cooperated with the inquiry. The Defense Ministry said two members of Bulgaria’s armed forces were among those detained. Relations between Sofia and Moscow have been hit by several spy scandals in recent years. In the past two years, Bulgaria has expelled six Russian diplomats, the latest case being in December 2020 when Vasily Sazanovich, the Russian military attache, was asked to leave the country. The influential Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev has been banned from entering Bulgaria. Two Bulgarians have been detained and charged with espionage but the trial has not taken place yet.

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