Bulgarian prosecutors have established links between six Russian nationals who spent time in Bulgaria and four explosions at arms depots in the EU country between 2011 and 2020.
Moscow accused Bulgarian officials of trying to outdo authorities in Prague who allege that Russian secret services were behind an explosion in the Czech Republic in 2014.
With a wave of EU-Russia tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions since the Czech accusations, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said: “It’s good that we haven’t yet killed Archduke Ferdinand. Apparently, this is where it’s going.”
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo in 1914 sparked the first world war.
The Bulgarian foreign ministry said it would summon Russia’s ambassador on Thursday in connection with the probe into the explosions in Bulgaria, which Sofia says may be linked to the one in the Czech Republic.
In Sofia, Siyka Mileva, the spokesperson for Bulgaria’s prosecution, told a press conference: “It was established during the investigation that six Russian citizens spent time on the Republic of Bulgaria’s territory around the dates of the explosions.”
She added: “The evidence gathered leads to the highly reliable conclusion that the aim of the actions of the Russian citizens was to stop the delivery [of munitions to Georgia and Ukraine].”
The first explosion in question was in November 2011 near the northern village of Lovnidol in a depot belonging to a company called Emco, headed by Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev.
Two blasts in 2015 took place at ancillary facilities near the Sopot military factory, with some stocks belonging to Emco being destroyed in one of them. The fourth blast, in 2020, destroyed an important military depot near the central town of Maglizh.
None of the blasts caused any casualties and all were triggered remotely in a “similar” fashion, according to Mileva.
In April 2015 Gebrev, his son and an executive from his company were victims of a poisoning attempt. Prosecutors now say they have “extremely well-founded suspicions” the attempted poisoning and explosions may be linked.
In addition they have pointed to links with “serious crimes perpetrated in other countries”, an allusion to an explosion at a Czech arms depot in 2014 and the 2018 attempted poisoning of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK.
“We are in touch with the Czech Republic, to see if there is a Russian connection,” said Mileva.
Last week Prague accused Russian secret services of being behind the explosion in the Czech Republic, leading to a wave of reciprocal diplomatic expulsions between Russia and the Czech Republic as well as EU countries supporting Prague. Moscow denies involvement in the 2014 blast.
Gebrev had munitions stored at the Czech depot, close to the village of Vrbetice.
In a statement Emco did not respond directly to prosecutors’ latest findings but accused them of being slow to act in the case after “hiding the activities of the Russian secret services for years”.
According to Ukrainian sources cited by the investigative site Bellingcat, Emco “played a crucial role in boosting Ukraine’s defence capability at a time when its territorial integrity was at stake”.
According to those same sources Emco was the “only possible foreign-based provider of munitions for Ukraine’s army”.
Three Russians were charged last year in Bulgaria in absentia in connection with the attempted poisoning of Gebrev, one of them a Russian intelligence officer who is also thought to be a suspect in the Skripal affair.