Bulgaria smashes ‘Russian spy ring’ that threatened EU and Nato secrets

Sofia arrests defence ministry and intelligence staff as relations with Moscow sour

Bulgaria says it has broken up a Russian spy ring and arrested defence ministry and military intelligence staff who sought to provide Moscow with secrets that could damage Bulgarian, EU, US and Nato security.

Six Bulgarians have been arrested for alleged involvement in the spy ring, which was led by a former military intelligence officer who is accused of recruiting agents with access to classified military and technological information.

His wife, who has Bulgarian and Russian citizenship, “acted as an intermediary between [him] and a representative of the Russian embassy”, Siyka Mileva, a spokeswoman for the state prosecutor’s office, said on Friday.

"We can conclude that the criminal group posed a serious threat to national security by collecting and passing to a foreign country information that constitutes state secrets of Bulgaria, Nato and the European Union, " she added.


One of the alleged spies worked in planning at the Bulgarian defence ministry, and at least two others are serving military intelligence officers. They were arrested on Thursday during a major security operation in Sofia and on roads leading out of the capital.

Ongoing investigation

The office of prosecutor general Ivan Geshev said one suspect is co-operating with investigators, and another "managed to escape in the course of the ongoing investigation. All possible actions were carried out immediately and the same person was found near the embassy of the Russian Federation".

"This investigation is of particular importance for the security of Bulgaria, the EU, Nato and the United States. There has been no such case [in Bulgaria] since 1944," said Mr Geshev.

“We do not hate any foreign country, but we need to and must defend Bulgaria . . . Bulgarian citizens can and should be proud of their security services.”

Prosecutors played wiretaps for the media in which the supposed leader of the spy ring allegedly discusses operations and payments with his agents, and showed footage of one suspect allegedly photographing classified material on his computer screen.

Sofia and Moscow were particularly close allies during the communist era and Russia remains a strong economic player and the major energy supplier in the EU and Nato member state. Relations have been strained in recent years by Bulgaria's expulsion of several Russian diplomats over spy scandals, however.

Scandal-plagued government

“Amid the worsening international situation there have been obvious ‘insistent’ attempts to drive a wedge into Russian-Bulgarian dialogue and once again demonise our country,” Tass news agency quoted the Russian embassy in Sofia as saying.

“We expect that until the court has pronounced its verdict in the case, all speculation over Russia’s alleged involvement in intelligence activity against Bulgaria’s interests will stop.”

The furore comes two weeks before parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, where critics of the scandal-plagued government accuse it of exaggerating the threat posed by Russia to curry favour with the West and undermine more Moscow-friendly opposition parties.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe