Bulgaria launches investigation into possible Russian involvement in arms depot explosions

Bulgarian arms trader Emilian Gebrev talks to the media in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Bulgarian prosecutors said they are collecting evidence on the possible involvement of six Russians in four explosions between 2011 and 2020 at Bulgarian arms depots that were storing munitions for export to Ukraine and Georgia.

A spokeswoman said prosecutors could reasonably assume links between the blasts in Bulgaria, the attempted poisoning of Bulgarian arms trader Emilian Gebrev in 2015, and munitions depot explosions in the Czech Republic in 2014.

The six Russians were in Bulgaria around the dates when the arms depot blasts occurred and attempts were made to poison Gebrev, prosecutors’ spokeswoman Siyka Mileva told a news briefing on Wednesday.

“The collected evidence points so far, with a great degree of credibility, to the conclusion that the aim of the actions of the Russian citizens was to stop the supplies of (munitions) to Georgia and Ukraine,” Mileva said.

“Evidence is being collected on the complicity of these six Russian citizens.”

Ukraine has been at odds with Russia since 2014 when its Crimea region was annexed by Moscow and Russian-backed separatists launched an insurgency in Ukraine’s east. Tensions between Russia and Georgia have been high since their 2008 war.

Mileva said prosecutors were liaising with counterparts in the Czech Republic to establish possible links between the Bulgaria blasts and the 2014 explosions at the Czech depot, which also stored munitions owned by Gebrev.

Moscow has rejected the Czech allegations as absurd and on Wednesday Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the Bulgarian investigation. “Either the Bulgarian side knew nothing and only now, after the Czech Republic announced the 2014 incident, decided to outshine the Czechs and look further back into history,” Lavrov told reporters. “Or they knew about for all this time but did not make it public for some reason.”

Mileva did not name the Russian citizens or provide other details about them but said three Russians who have been charged with the attempted murder of Gebrev were likely to have been intelligence agents.

Prosecutors said the explosion at an arms depot owned by Gebrev’s company EMCO in 2011, two blasts at state arms company VMZ in 2015, and a fourth at private arms producer Arsenal in 2020 all lacked obvious, technical causes.

The blasts were all triggered remotely and followed the outbreak of fires that the perpetrators apparently timed to allow workers to leave the area and avoid casualties, Mileva said.

“In all of the four blasts, production destined for export to Georgia and Ukraine was destroyed,” she said.

In a statement, EMCO said the munitions destroyed at its depot in 2011 were not intended for export to Georgia and denied any link to the blasts at VMZ. EMCO urged prosecutors to seek the real reasons for the explosions.

Czech authorities ordered most Russian diplomatic staff in Prague to leave last week after accusing Russian spies of being behind ammunition depot blasts. Russia expelled Czech diplomats in retaliation. Bulgaria has voiced solidarity with Prague.

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