Russians Probed for Bulgaria Blasts With Links to Czech Feud

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Bulgaria is probing several explosions at arms warehouses for potential links to an investigation into a deadly munition blast in the Czech Republic that sparked a recent diplomatic feud with Russia.

Prosecutors are investigating six unnamed Russian citizens, whose presence in Bulgaria between 2011 and 2020 coincided with the blasts, Siyka Mileva, the spokeswoman for the country’s chief prosecutor, told reporters on Wednesday. Evidence suggests that they most likely tried to prevent munition exports to Georgia and Ukraine, she said.

The authorities also suspect the Russians of being linked to the 2015 poisoning of a Bulgarian arms dealer, Emilian Gebrev, his son and one of his employees. Bulgaria has already charged three Russians in absentia for what resembled the 2018 attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the U.K.

Mileva said the charged are “very likely” a part of the Russian GRU intelligence service.

The investigation gives ground for “a reasonable assumption of a link that exists between the blasts on Bulgarian territory, the attempts to poison three Bulgarian citizens and heavy crimes conducted in other countries,” she told reporters.

The probe adds a new chapter to a row that earlier this month plunged relations between the Czech Republic and Russian to their lowest point since the fall of the Iron Curtain more than thirty years ago.

Outdo the Czechs

Prague blamed Moscow’s agents for the explosion that killed two Czechs in 2014 and in reaction expelled numerous Russian diplomats. Russia rejected the claims as absurd.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sought to play down the latest revelations on Wednesday, saying Bulgaria was “trying to outdo the Czechs.” He didn’t directly deny the allegations.

The European Union “should answer the questions -- we’ve raised -- about just how well it monitors the way some of its members fulfill their obligations under various documents governing arms trading,” he told reporters in Moscow.

Some of the production destroyed in the Czech explosion belonged to Gebrev, who has repeatedly denied he was planning to export the arms stored in the facility to Ukraine. He has also rejected any links between his poisoning and exports to Ukraine.

A series of blasts in Bulgaria -- one in 2011, two in 2015 and another one in 2020 -- saw explosions being activated remotely following a fire that was likely used to evacuate employees, Mileva said.

All four incidents affected production designated for shipments to Georgia and Ukraine. In the two of those cases, it involved items belonging to Gebrev’s EMCO OOD company. Separately, a 2015 fire in Bulgarian capital of Sofia destroyed all the evidence collected about one of the blasts.

In its response on Wednesday, EMCO accused Bulgarian prosecutors of “lying” and rejected the claim that the production was to be sent to Georgia. In an emailed statement, the company denied having any connection with some of the other blasts.

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