Connecting the dots Bulgaria suspects six Russian nationals in series of arms depot explosions
Bulgaria is investigating six Russian nationals over their alleged involvement in a series of arms depot explosions dating back as far as 2011, the spokeswoman for the country’s Prosecutor General’s Office announced at a press conference on Wednesday, April 28. The explosions targeted weapons apparently destined for export to Georgia and Ukraine, which belonged to Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev. Bulgarian prosecutors also believe there may be a connection between the blasts and the poisoning attempt on Gebrev in 2015.
The Bulgarian Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating the possible involvement of six Russian citizens in four arms depot explosions that took place in Bulgaria between 2011 and 2020.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, April 28, the Prosecutor General’s Office spokeswoman, Siika Mileva, said that according to preliminary findings, the explosions targeted weapons belonging to Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, which were intended for export to Georgia and Ukraine.
The first blast took place at an EMCO warehouse in the village of Lovnidol on November 12, 2011. Two more explosions occurred at a VMZ-Sopot depot in the village of Iganov in 2015. The fourth blast happened at one of the country’s strategic facilities, an Arsenal plant warehouse on the outskirts of the town of Maglizh.
According to the prosecutor’s office, each of the explosions was preceded by arson, in an apparent attempt to provoke the evacuation of people and personnel in the area. After that, explosive devices planted in the warehouses were detonated remotely. As a result, no one was injured in any of the four blasts.
The prosecutor’s office noted that the six Russian suspects were in Bulgaria at the time of each of the four explosions, and added that they may be connected to Emilian Gebrev’s poisoning in 2015. The prosecutor’s office didn’t disclose the names of the suspects.
In April 2015, Emilian Gebrev was admitted to a hospital along with his son and business partner after having dinner at a restaurant in Sofia. Doctors established that the Bulgarian arms deal and his companions were poisoned with a Novichok-class organophosphorus substance. Gebrev was hospitalized with similar symptoms again in May 2015. In February 2020, the Bulgarian Prosecutor General’s Office charged three Russians believed to be members of the GRU military intelligence agency with the poisoning attempt: Georgy Gorshkov, Sergey Pavalov, and Sergey Fedotov.
According to an investigation from The Insider and Bellingcat, Sergey Fedotov was also involved in the Novichok poisoning attempt on Sergey and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England in May 2018. The UK has charged suspected GRU agents “Alexander Petrov” and “Ruslan Boshirov” (whose real names are believed to be Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, respectively) with the assassination attempt on the Skripals.
Earlier this month, the Czech authorities accused the Russian intelligence services of playing a role in two explosions at arms depots in the Czech Republic in 2014. These warehouses also held weapons belonging to Gebrev.
According to The Insider and Bellingcat, there were at least six operatives from the GRU’s Unit 29155 involved in the operation in the Czech Republic. It was led by the unit’s commander, Colonel General Andrey Averyanov, and involved his subordinates Denis Sergeev and Egor Gordienko, as well as Lieutenant Colonel Nikolai Yezhov, and “Petrov” and “Boshirov.” Moscow rejected Prague’s accusations, calling them absurd and unfounded. The escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries led to tit-for-tat expulsions impacting dozens of embassy employees.