While 70 Russian diplomats leave Bulgaria, Moscow’s controversial ambassador remains

SOFIA – If ambassadors have the task of cultivating warm relations between their home country and the host country, then Eleonora Mitrofanova is not doing their job.

Since Mitrofanova took over as Russia’s ambassador to Bulgaria in 2021, despite deep historical ties, she has managed to anger much of the Balkan nation.

She apparently used a crude term to refer to the Bulgarians as Western lackeys when relations between the West and Russia collapsed over the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24. And she met with a former Bulgarian lawmaker accused of Sofia’s past of spying on behalf of Russian interests.

Mitrofanova, 69, has also upped the embassy’s social media game, mainly to defend and spread disinformation about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to camouflage those who oppose it. Many Bulgarian politicians have been calling for their resignation for months.

But Mitrofanova’s name was not on the list of 70 Russian diplomats Sofia announced on June 28 would be expelled in another blow to bilateral ties.

The move announced by the foreign ministry and the outgoing prime minister was the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats from Sofia in recent years and more than half the size of Moscow’s diplomatic corps in the Balkan country.

Bulgaria will expel 70 Russian diplomats… Our [security] The security services identified them as people working against our interests,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told reporters on June 28.

Those identified as a “danger to national security” must leave by July 3, the Bulgarian foreign ministry said.

Several European countries expelled Russian diplomats after Moscow invaded Ukraine, and Moscow responded in kind by expelling European diplomats.

Petkov has taken an unusually strong stance on Russia for a country that had close ties with Moscow during the communist era and has long been a magnet for Russian tourists. In February, he fired his defense minister for refusing to call what Russia calls “a special military operation” against Ukraine a “war.”

Bulgaria had already expelled 10 Russian diplomats in March for violating diplomatic protocol.

Although Bulgaria is an EU and NATO member, it was once a staunch ally of the Soviet Union in communism and still maintains strong cultural, historical and economic ties with Russia.

Experienced diplomat

Mitrofanova was an experienced Russian diplomat appointed Ambassador of Moscow to Bulgaria in January 2021. In the past, between 2009 and 2016, she served as the Permanent Representative of Russia to UNESCO, the United Nations Cultural Agency, as well as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Before taking up her post in Sofia, Mitrofanova headed Rossotrudnichestvo. Established in 2008, the agency is officially tasked with advancing Russian interests abroad, engaging and organizing what Moscow calls “compatriots living abroad.” Have his activities in organizing local ethnic Russian groups abroad suspicion aroused by host governments in the past.

On February 25, just a day after Russia’s war in Ukraine began, Mitrofanova met with Nikolai Malinov, a former Bulgarian lawmaker and head of a pro-Russian lobby group in Bulgaria. In 2019, Malinov traveled to Moscow to personally accept an award from President Vladimir Putin.

In 2019, Bulgarian prosecutors accused Malinov of money laundering and Delivery of state secrets to two Russia-based organizations with close ties to the Kremlin and the Russian secret services.

Days after meeting the accused Russian spy, Mitrofanova found herself at the center of a media storm over comments on social media that many Bulgarians took as a gross insult.

“Minions of the West”

Mitrofanova was announced on the Russian Embassy’s Facebook page on February 28 that the diplomatic mission now has a Telegram channel to better combat “information aggression from Washington and its Euro-Atlantic bases,” she claimed Russia was exposed.

She didn’t stop there, but accused the Bulgarians of being lackeys to the West, using the term “bedpans,” the device used in hospitals to collect human waste.

Outraged, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry sent an official letter to the Russian embassy on March 2, demanding the removal of offensive social media posts and an apology, which the embassy failed to do.

Mitrofanova also compared Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, which paved the way for Bulgaria’s liberation after five centuries of Ottoman rule.

Mitrofanova, in a video address on Liberation Day on March 3, a national holiday in Bulgaria commemorating the Balkan state’s independence in 1878 after the Russo-Turkish War, claimed that the Bulgarian people support the Kremlin in contrast to its “absolutely pro-American “ Government supported .

Just two days before Mitrofanova’s assessment of the Bulgarian zeitgeist a opinion poll the respected group Alpha Research showed a growing number of Bulgarians with negative attitudes towards Putin and Russia.

In March, Stefan Tafrov, a veteran Bulgarian politician and former UN ambassador, asked the Bulgarian government to expel Mitrofanovaand said her actions and words contradicted the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which, among other things, grants diplomats immunity from local law.

On April 6, Democratic Bulgaria, a member of the outgoing coalition, demanded that Mitrofanova be declared an undesirable person after Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska accused her of meddling in Bulgaria’s domestic politics.

As of June 30, Mitrofanova had not publicly commented on the recent Bulgarian expulsion order for Russian diplomats.

Prime Minister Petkov, whose pro-Western government collapsed in a vote of no confidence in parliament on June 22 after just six months in office, said June 29 that the Russian embassy in Sofia had “temporarily suspended its work”.

“Most of these people worked directly for the foreign services and their diplomatic role was just a cover.” said Petkov.

“If foreign governments try to interfere in Bulgaria’s internal affairs, we have clear institutions ready to respond. We expect a full plane with 70 people to fly back to Moscow on Sunday (July 3).”

Written in Prague by Tony Wesolowsky, based on reports from the Bulgarian service of RFE/RL, including Ivan Bedrov

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