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Sofia Looks At Links Between Czech Blast And Bulgarian Incidents, Summons Russian Envoy


Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev was poisoned in 2015.
Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev was poisoned in 2015.

SOFIA -- The Russian envoy has been summoned to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry after the authorities launched an investigation into six citizens of Russia suspected of involvement in a series of blasts at four weapons and armament facilities in Bulgaria between 2011 and 2020.

"From the evidence 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," a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, Siika Mileva, said on April 28.

She also said that there was a "reasonable assumption" that these incidents are connected to the near-fatal poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in 2015 and an explosion at a Czech arms depot in 2014.

"A reasonable assumption can be made about the relationship between the explosions on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, the poisoning of three Bulgarian citizens, and serious crimes committed on the territory of a foreign country," the spokeswoman said.

Following Mileva's announcement at a press conference, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry invited the Russian ambassador to the Balkan country to come to the ministry on April 29.

The Czech Republic earlier this month accused Russian GRU military intelligence of being behind an October 2014 explosion in the town of Vrbetice that set off 50 metric tons of stored ammunition and killed two people.

The Czech government later announced the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats it considered to be spies, setting off a string of tit-for-tat moves between Prague and Moscow.

In solidarity, several NATO and EU members have followed by expelling Russian diplomats for alleged spying as well.

Russia has denied any involvement in the incidents in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

"Either the Bulgarian side knew nothing about this for the past 10 years and only now, after the Czech Republic announced the 2014 incident, decided to outshine the Czechs and look further back into history, or they knew about it for all this time but did not make it public for some reason," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on April 28.

During her press conference, which was also attended by Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev and the chairman of the State Agency for National Security (SANS), Dimitar Georgiev, Mileva said that "similarities" had been observed in the blasts that rocked the four warehouses and production facilities in Bulgaria.

In all four cases, in which no casualties were reported, the blasts were preceded by a fire while explosive devices were triggered remotely.

"In none of those cases has been identified any specific technical malfunction or any other cause of the fires. In all of the four cases, the destroyed goods were intended to be exported to Georgia and Ukraine."

In a statement, Gebrev's company, EMCO, denied that products destroyed in a November 2011 blast at its warehouse in Lovnodil were "intended for export anywhere, including Georgia."

"What has the Bulgarian prosecutor's office been doing all these years while investigating the explosions? Why is it trying to wash its hands with EMCO again, instead of looking for the real causes and culprits for these terrorist acts?" it asked.

Moscow recognized Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states after Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in August 2008 over the territory.

In eastern Ukraine, Russia backs separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.

According to Mileva, three Russians who are being sought over the murder attempt against Gebrev and two other Bulgarian citizens were "most likely" GRU agents.

The spokeswoman also said that the investigation had established that at least six Russians "identified as, or are believed to be GRU agents" were residing in Bulgaria around the dates of the blasts and the poisonings.

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