Bulgaria: Espionage Allegations Rock Top Security Agencies
Latest alleged spying cases concern a police officer at the national agency for combating organised crime and an employee of the national security agency.
A police officer working in Bulgaria’s National Service for Combating Organised Crime and an employee of the state security agency were arrested on Monday for allegedly spying for Russia, Bulgarian National Television reported.
The operation in the national anti-organised crime service took place on Monday morning. “This individual was passing sensitive information for months, for a bit less than a year. There’s a possibility of more consequences and arrests,’ the general secretary of the Ministry of Interior, Zhivko Kotzev, said. He expressed sorrow that the case concerns a police officer.
The second arrest was initiated at the state national security agency a few hours later. There are fewer details as yet. But the Ministry of Interior has clarified that both individuals were communicating with a Russian who has been designated persona non grata and is a former employee of the Russian embassy in Sofia. According to Nova TV, the police was activated by international security services.
On January 31, Democratic Bulgaria MP Atanas Atanasov accused the security agency of not acting against a channel for infiltrating Russian spies through easily granted Bulgarian citizenship, for which it has full details. Atanasov, director of the agency from 1998-2001, said the scheme is organised by a Russian-Ukrainian in Moscow and operates under President Rumen Radev’s protection.
Previously, in July, General Prosecutor Borislav Sarafov, then recently appointed to the post, said that too many terrorism and espionage charges had been investigated for years without success or adequate consequences. Sarafov said that one of those pending cases concerned espionage within national security structures.
In the last few years, several Bulgarian and Russian officials colluding with the Kremlin have been exposed. Last September, the abbot of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia and two clerics from Belarus were accused of espionage and had to leave Bulgaria.
Sofia has expelled more than 100 alleged spies in recent years and has arrested a number of Bulgarians accused of collaborating with Russian intelligence. The most publicized case was in March 2021, when six people were detained, including three from Bulgaria’s own Defence Ministry.
Russian influence remains evident in the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the successor to the former ruling Communist Party, and in the far-right Revival, both of which are broadly hostile to the European Union and the United States.
More marginal political figures, including Nikolay Malinov of the “Russiophile Movement” party, were designated in 2023 by coordinated UK/US sanctions on some Bulgarian politicians.
President Radev, an opponent of Western sanctions on Russia, and of military aid to Ukraine, is a vocal critic of the current ruling coalition, which has a pronounced Euro-Atlantic profile and has pushed for reform of the national security services.
Recent constitutional changes, adopted by the end of 2023, have limited the President’s powers; during Bulgaria’s election spiral, in 2020-2022, Radev hand-picked three interim cabinets that often blocked reforms and stayed close to his political line.
In 2022, parliament stopped the “golden passports” scheme by which Bulgaria granted citizenship in return for investment, and which attracted numerous wealthy Russians.