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In the midst of growing tensions, Bulgaria’s decision to refuse airspace access to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s aircraft has sparked a dispute between the two countries. This incident took place while Lavrov was on his way to attend a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Skopje, North Macedonia. As a result of denied access, the Russian plane had to take a route over Greece which prolonged its journey time.
Dmitry Peskov, an official from the Kremlin, described Bulgaria’s decision as “absurd and foolish”. Meanwhile Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry who is under EU sanctions, argued that her presence on the plane was the reason for Bulgaria’s denial. Zakharova criticized the act and expressed how unusual it is to ban an individual of the entire aircraft on her telegram account. “The malicious stupidity of the Russophobes reached the point that, for the first time in our history, official authorities banned not an airplane, but a person on that airplane.” She also gave a warning about actions like imposing overflight bans on thousands of NATO officials accusing Bulgaria of setting a dangerous precedent.
While it is not clear what exactly caused Maria Zakharova’s presence to be denied, this incident has implications. The reciprocal threats of banning overflights raise concerns about disruptions in engagements involving NATO countries. The fact that several nations boycotted the OSCE meeting shows the impact of Russia’s involvement in international affairs. This situation highlights the balance European countries must navigate when managing relations with both Russia and NATO given ongoing geopolitical complexities.
The Bulgarian foreign ministry has not officially commented on this issue.
To reach the OSCE meeting in Skopje Lavrov’s plane had to be redirected over Greece. According to a government official from Greece it is allowed to make exceptions for travel related to OSCE meetings discussing Ukraine even if there are airspace restrictions in place. Athens claims that they followed all the procedures before granting permission for the overflight.
Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania boycotted the Skopje meeting in protest against the participation of the Russian delegation.
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