Maria Zakharova and Sergey Lavrov at the press conference in Skopje, 01.12.2023
Photo: Bojan Blazhevski, meta.mk
The spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, was part of the Russian delegation at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Skopje. Her presence on the Russian plane forced Bulgaria to revoke the permission to fly over its territory. The reason is not the bilateral dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria, as this Facebook post suggests, but the fact that Zakharova is under EU sanctions as she is considered a central figure of the Russian government propaganda
A post on the social network Facebook (screenshot here) is twisting the truth about Bulgaria’s ban on the overflight of the Russian plane carrying Sergey Lavrov and Maria Zakharova to Skopje and suggests the reason for that was the bilateral dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria. This is not true.
Dear Maria, I have been saying for a long time that the Bulgars have a psycho-mental disorder when it comes to Macedonia. Maybe they did not allow you to fly because you were supposed to come to Macedonia? That’s how sick they are, says the post.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov attended the 30th OSCE Ministerial Council which took place in Skopje last week. His and the presence of the Russian delegation were uncertain almost until the very start of the event, due to the ban on the overflight of Russian state-owned aircraft over the territory of the European Union. The final decision did not depend only on Macedonia, but also on the neighbors that were supposed to allow the overflight of the Russian state plane.
The initial announcement was that the head of Russian diplomacy, Lavrov, was to arrive at the OSCE ministerial meeting with a flight over Bulgaria since the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved the overflight. The Ministry pointed out that the given approval falls under the exempted cases from the EU-sanction regime against Lavrov and that the approval did not apply to the members of his delegation, as sanctioned persons under applicable EU law.
On the grounds of a request received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia, in its capacity as the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for 2023 and organiser of the 30th OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Skopje on 29 November — 1 December 2023, to provide permission for delegations to fly over for participation in the forthcoming OSCE Ministerial Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria has granted permission for the Rossiya Special Flying Squad to fly through the airspace of the Republic of Bulgaria to transport a delegation for participation in the international forum.
Diplomatic overflight clearance is temporary and valid 3 hours before and 72 hours after the scheduled overflight date and time, informed the Bulgarian MFA.
He and his delegation, however, arrived with a flight via Greece and Turkey, not via Bulgaria. Part of the Russian delegation was the spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, whose presence on the plane caused Bulgaria to revoke the approval for the overflight. The reason is not the bilateral dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria, as this Facebook post suggests.
In the Note of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which Russian media were acquainted with, and Macedonian media had already reported about it; the approval was granted for Minister Lavrov, but not for other members of the delegation who were under sanctions.
The permission is granted to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to attend the OSCE Council of Ministers meeting in Skopje and falls under the exceptions to the application of the EU sanctions regime against him. The permission given does not apply to members of his delegation, who are also sanctioned persons under current EU law, which is explicitly mentioned in the Bulgarian side’s reply note, specifies the Bulgarian MFA.
Zakharova published on Telegram that the decision ”…was not only stupidity but a dangerously stupid thing performed by some joker in the power structures of Bulgaria”.
Zakharova is under EU sanctions and that is the reason why the Russian state plane was not allowed to fly over Bulgaria and that was clearly emphasized. The approval has nothing to do with the fact that she was going to Macedonia, as falsely claimed. The dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria, thereby obstructing Macedonia’s path to the European Union, has nothing to do with the sanctions on Zakharova.
In February 2022, the European Union agreed to impose sanctions on several Russian officials, including the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zakharova, and the Editor-in-Chief of RT, Margarita Simonyan. Both were called “central figures of government propaganda”.
Some of the sanctions provide for the freezing of assets and a ban to travel to 27 EU member states. The US also imposed sanctions against several individuals, including Zakharova.
According to all the information, we conclude that Maria Zakharova was not permitted to overfly Bulgaria due to the sanctions imposed by the EU against her, and not because of the bilateral dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria. This was clearly stated by all parties involved in the case. After all, if this claim was true, then Bulgaria would not have approved Lavrov’s overfly either, not only Zakharova.