Greece, Bulgaria bullied by Russian embassies

In Athens, the Russian embassy even dictated to Greeks which TV channel's they should watch. [|Shutterstock/home for heroes]

Russia’s embassies across Europe have been active on social media defending Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. But in some cases, such as in Greece and Bulgaria, the Russian embassies went too far, even bullying local politicians and journalists.

Meanwhile, in other European countries, the Russian embassies either remained silent, regurgitated state propaganda, or complained about the way the war was being portrayed.

But in Bulgaria and Greece, both Orthodox countries like Russia, the embassies have crossed the line. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Sunday endorsed Putin’s war and said, “we have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance”.

In Sofia, the pressure is mounting to expel the Russian ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova over insulting comments about Bulgaria and its citizens.

In Athens, the Russian embassy even dictated to Greeks which TV channels they should watch.

Bulgaria: Ambassador forces to apologise

On Sunday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov invited Mitrofanova to a meeting and urged her to adhere to the norms of diplomatic communication and not to use offensive qualifications against Bulgarian institutions.

Mitrofanova apologised to Petkov as the latter expressed outrage that she had compared the war in Ukraine to the liberation of Bulgaria 144 years ago. Petkov insisted that the Russian embassy should not interfere in Bulgaria’s domestic policy, calling for an end to the war in Ukraine and a return to dialogue.

Previously, the “We Are Coming” movement appealed to Petkov and Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska to expel the diplomat within 72 hours. Former Deputy Foreign Minister Stefan Tafrov of Democratic Bulgaria, part of the ruling coalition, made a similar request.

Mitrofanova sparked controversy with a series of embarrassing remarks over the past week. The latest was a video address to Russophiles in Bulgaria, in which she compared the war with Ukraine to the liberation of Bulgaria 144 years ago.

“Many of my compatriots perceive the events in Ukraine, as they did 144 years ago, as just and long-overdue actions to protect the people of Donbas from the Nazi Kyiv regime, which has been killing civilians for eight years,” Mitrofanova said in the video. It is supposedly dedicated to the national holiday of Bulgaria (3 March), but contains mainly the Kremlin’s propaganda statements justifying the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mitrofanova does not address the entire Bulgarian people, but only the “friends of Russia in Bulgaria”.

The video is in Russian and has not been translated into Bulgarian. She spoke of “our humane Christian values”, which forced Russia to take action against Ukraine for the sake of Donbas.

The Bulgarian state was restored in 1878 after the third war between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The signing of the temporary peace treaty on 3 March is still celebrated as a national holiday of Bulgaria. All the nationalities of the Russian Empire, including Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Finns and many others, took part in the war of liberation, which is the reason for the Russophile sentiments of many Bulgarians.

The 3 March is not unequivocally accepted by some Bulgarians who claim that the war against the Ottomans aimed to provide the Russian Empire with greater access to the Black Sea and transform Bulgaria from Ottoman territory into a Russian satellite.

After the start of the war in Ukraine, the Russian embassy issued a publication talking about “Washington and its Euro-Atlantic substrates”, which offended Bulgaria.

So far, the government has not explicitly responded to calls for Mitrofanova’s expulsion. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry only apologised and demanded that the publication on “American substrates” be removed, but so far this has not happened.

“It is absurd to compare the Russian Tsar Alexander II, called the Liberator, with the bloody dictator Vladimir Putin in Bulgaria. We hope for urgent actions that will protect the honour and dignity of Bulgarian citizens from encroachments”, says the “We are coming” movement, which had representation in the previous parliament.

On 2 March, the Russian ambassador refused to appear at the Foreign Ministry to receive two diplomatic notes on the expulsion of two Russian diplomats over the latest spy scandal in Bulgaria.

“Mitrofanova does not respect Bulgarian official institutions and insults Bulgarian citizens. If we adhere to the dignity of our country, we cannot allow such behaviour on the part of a foreign ambassador,” former diplomat Stefan Tafrov told Nova TV.

He explained that the Russian ambassador first allowed herself to insult the entire Bulgarian people and government with the definition of “subterfuge”, and then on the Bulgarian national holiday “allowed herself lies and falsification of Bulgarian history.”

“The direct comparison between the Liberation of Bulgaria and the bloody massacre in Ukraine is a hoax with our history and memory,” the diplomat said, recalling that the Russian Imperial Army had never killed Bulgarian civilians and children. On the contrary, the Bulgarians fought together with the Russian Imperial Army.

Russian embassy “scolds” Greek politicians, media

In Greece, tensions between Athens and Moscow flared up after ten Greek expatriates were killed during a bombing by Russian forces in Sartana, a village in the Donetsk oblast in eastern Ukraine.

In Athens, the Russian embassy issued a statement saying Russia does not bomb residential areas and villages, adding that Ukrainian soldiers should be held responsible instead.

In a separate surprising statement, the embassy attacked politicians and media for spreading anti-Russian propaganda, which many perceived as bullying.

“We call on everyone, and especially the very top officials, politicians and statesmen, MPs, party officials, ministries, the media, various parrots and others, who were so hasty yesterday to blame Russia for everything (as always), to come together and take over their responsibilities, to stop anti-Russian propaganda and to show composure, sobriety and seriousness”, the embassy said.

It added that Donbas has been suffering from the Ukrainian army and nationalist, fascist battalions for eight years. Still, no one spoke about it in Greece, “no official building or fountain here in Athens was ever dressed in the colours of peace”.

“So, some should get their act together!” the embassy wrote.

Russia dictates which TV channel Greeks should watch

On Sunday, the Russian embassy went further after it posted on social media that Greeks should watch a specific TV channel for “objective” information.

The embassy referred to OPEN TV, owned by Russian-Greek businessman and politician Ivan Savvidis, who has been elected twice in Russia’s Duma with Vladimir Putin’s political party.

Savvidis is considered a Russian oligarch for many in Greece, but his name has not yet appeared on any EU sanctions lists.

The EU is readying a new list, and EURACTIV was informed that “EU Commission services are checking every single Russian doing business in Europe and having ties with Putin’s regime”. 

What’s happening in other EU countries

In Rome, the Russian embassy sent a quite menacing email to the Chair of the foreign and defence committees of the Parliament asking to forward it to all lawmakers.

An email from the Russian ambassador to Italy, enclosing the statement with which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has informed the EU in recent days that the sanctions “will not go unanswered”. This is the one that reached the Italian parliamentarians who are members of the Defence Committee”, the email reads.

EURACTIV Italy reported that it was not bullying as such, but definitely intimidatory, triggering reactions among Italian lawmakers.

In Lithuania, the Russian embassy’s street in Vilnius was renamed Ukraine’s Heroes Street. The city’s mayor Remigijus Šimašius also sprayed “Putin the Hague is waiting for you”on the street next to the embassy.

In Helsinki and the UK, the Russian embassies have been silent and in Slovenia, the embassy‘s social media channels just repost the Kremlin’s propaganda.

In Berlin, the embassy posts on social media news of German personalities, institutions, organisations who spoke out in favour of good relations to Russia and towns that do not want to end partnerships with Russian towns.

They also posted in Russian about how Russians in Germany can get help if they are bullied/attacked for being Russian, and a post saying this has become more frequent in the EU.

In Madrid, a video defending the war in Ukraine which was posted on the embassy page has sparked controversy, Spanish TV TELEMADRID channel reported. In the video, a woman, alone and against a black background, speaks directly and openly about the war in Ukraine, defending Russia’s actions.

“Russia has been very patient while Ukrainians were killing Russians in the neighbouring country. At the same time, Nazi movements were developing in Ukraine to do everything possible to kill the Soviet past in common,” she says.

In Bucharest, Russia sent a note to the Romanian Foreign Ministry over violations of rights of Russian citizens. The embassy claimed the social and property rights of some Russian citizens were not respected, but the Romanian foreign ministry said no details were specified when asked.

In an article published by the TASS news agency, linked from the embassyțs Facebook page, the Russian ambassador to Romania Valery Kuzmin said some Russian citizens were denied services at Romanian banks, while also mentioning some alleged incidents at borders.

In Tirana, the Russian embassy asked the police to remove a man protesting out of the Russian embassy holding a sign saying “F..k Putin”. The police removed the protestor from the site, despite the fact that he was in a public garden just outside the embassy and not on embassy property. The Municipality has also announced it will rename the street housing the Russian and Serbian embassies to “Free Ukraine Street’.

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