Matt Atlas

Bulgaria Alleges Russian Links To Arms Depot Blasts, Widening European Probes Into Moscow Agents

Bulgarian prosecutors said Wednesday that they are looking at whether four explosions at weapons depots over the past decade are part of a Russian effort to disrupt the flow of arms from Eastern Europe to battlefields in Ukraine and Georgia.

The investigations into the explosions, which took place between 2011 and 2020, are part of wider probes in Europe linked to suspected Russian military intelligence agents.

Bulgaria’s announcement followed claims by Czech authorities last week that they suspect two agents from unit 29155 in Russia’s GRU intelligence agency were linked to blasts at an arms warehouse in the Czech Republic in 2014.

The agents they named were the same suspects as those British authorities linked to the 2018 poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in 2018 in Salisbury, Britain.

Both Czech and Bulgarian authorities have linked consignments of arms in the targeted warehouses to the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, who survived a 2015 poisoning in which Bulgaria had initially charged three Russian agents. Two other Bulgarians, including Gebrev’s son, were sickened.

The apparent focus of Russian agents on Gebrev have focused scrutiny on the activities of the arms dealer, who has denied that he was dealing weapons in any meaningful way to Ukraine and has said he does not know why he was targeted.

But prosecutors pointed to his arms deals at a time when Russia had interests in preventing weapons flowing to its adversaries in Europe. At the time Gebrev was poisoned, Russia was in the thick of its war with Ukraine.  

“From the evidence thus gathered so far, it can be concluded with a high degree of reliability that the purpose of the actions of the Russian citizens was to cut off the supply of special products to Georgia and Ukraine,” the Bulgarian prosecutor said in a statement.

In Ukraine, government forces have been battling pro-Moscow separatists since 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In Georgia, the breakaway region of South Ossetia is backed by Russia.

The head of the Russian State Duma foreign affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, denied any Russian role in the explosions of Bulgarian weapons depots or production facilities.

“Again unsubstantiated, again based on speculation, and again without real evidence,” Slutsky said.

The first suspicious explosion in Bulgaria took place at a warehouse in the village of Lovnidol in 2011, according to prosecutors, who said the warehouse belonged to Gebrev’s arms company, EMCO.

“A significant amount of ammunition and explosives destined for export to the Georgian Ministry of Defense was destroyed,” prosecutors said.

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