Expulsion of Russian Journalist and Orthodox Church Head Escalates Bulgaria-Russia Tensions

Nikolai Denkov faces an uphill battle as he seeks to push the authorities to take action against the Kremlin’s activities in Bulgaria.
Nikolai Denkov faces an uphill battle as he seeks to push the authorities to take action against the Kremlin’s activities in Bulgaria. Photo: Getty Images

Sofia, Bulgaria – November 1, 2023 – Bulgaria has once again made a significant move in its ongoing diplomatic dispute with Russia by expelling a Russian journalist, Aleksander Gatsak, who was the correspondent for Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s newspaper. This comes just weeks after the Bulgarian government sent home the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in the country, further straining relations between the two nations.

The decision to expel Gatsak was based on allegations of activities that were perceived as a threat to Bulgaria’s national security. The State Agency for National Security (SANS) released a statement confirming the expulsion and revocation of Gatsak’s residency rights. It’s worth noting that an expulsion order had already been issued in September, but the recent actions were an enforcement of this order.

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In their statement, SANS emphasized that their actions were taken with the primary objective of safeguarding Bulgaria’s national security and were not intended to restrict freedom of speech or expression. This clarification underscores the sensitive nature of the situation and the need to balance national security concerns with the principles of free speech and the press.

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This recent expulsion is not an isolated incident in Bulgaria’s recent actions against individuals with ties to Russia. In September, the Bulgarian government expelled the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia, along with two Belarusian priests. They were accused of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, further straining diplomatic relations.

Bulgaria is a member of both the European Union and NATO and shares historical and cultural ties with Russia, being a Slavic and Orthodox country. However, these deep-rooted connections have been tested since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sofia has taken a firm stance against the invasion, condemning it and expelling 70 Russian diplomatic staff from the country last year.

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The ongoing tensions between Bulgaria and Russia reflect the broader divisions within the international community concerning Russia’s actions in Eastern Europe. The situation is being closely monitored by other EU and NATO member states, as well as international observers, as it may have implications for regional stability and diplomatic relations.

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This expulsion underscores the challenges that many countries face when trying to balance their diplomatic and security interests with the principles of freedom and openness. As the situation continues to evolve, it remains to be seen whether diplomatic channels can be reopened and tensions eased between Bulgaria and Russia. The broader diplomatic landscape in the region will also play a crucial role in shaping the outcome of this ongoing dispute.

Also Read: Kremlin Warns Western Firms of Strict Rules in Russian Asset Sales

For now, the expulsion of the Russian journalist and the prior expulsions related to the Orthodox Church represent the latest chapters in the complex and evolving relationship between Bulgaria and Russia. It’s a situation that continues to capture international attention and underscores the delicate diplomatic tightrope that many countries must walk in today’s global political landscape.

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