Bulgaria expels Russian diplomat over Moscow’s alleged involvement in weapons explosions

Bulgaria expels Russian diplomat over Moscow’s alleged involvement in weapons explosions
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia April 29, 2021

Bulgaria’s foreign affairs ministry declared one Russian diplomat persona non grata on April 29 following revelations by prosecutors of Moscow's possible involvement in several explosions in weapons factories. 

Bulgaria followed a string of other governments in Central and Southeast Europe to have expelled Russian diplomats in recent days after Prague’s revelations about the Kremlin's suspected involvement in two arms warehouse explosions that resulted in two deaths in Czechia.

On April 28, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev said that the four blasts in weapons factories in Bulgaria were most likely executed by officers of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.

The foreign affairs ministry also urged Moscow to cooperate with the Bulgarian prosecution in its investigation of the explosions and the poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, his son and the executive director of his company EMKO.

According to Geshev, the explosions in Bulgaria were carried out by six members of the GRU, some of them related to the poisoning of Gebrev. He said that all explosions had a similar signature – in all cases they began with a fire and a distant activation of the explosives.

One of the explosions occurred in 2001, two in 2015 and one in 2020.

All the weapons stored in the factories at the time of the explosions were to be exported to Ukraine and Georgia, Geshev said.

Geshev claimed that the Bulgarian prosecution has been working for years on the cases but provided no explanation as to why the authorities have never mentioned this before.

Geshev’s spokesperson Siyka Mileva said that the prosecution has obtained information through international cooperation, thanks to which “a reasonable assumption can be made about the relationship between the explosions that occurred on the territory of Bulgaria, the attempts to poison three Bulgarian citizens [Gebrev, his son and the executive director of EMKO] and the commission of serious crimes on the territory of foreign countries”.

The prosecution has already raised charges against three alleged GRU members, Denis Sergeyev, Egor Gordienko and Sergey Lyutenko, for Gebrev’s poisoning. At least one of them allegedly also participated in the poisoning of former Russian secret agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK in 2018.

Several days earlier, Czechia expelled 18 Russian diplomats, all alleged members of the Russian intelligence services over the explosions in the country. 

The Czech investigation suggested a connection to Bulgaria in one of the cases – the explosion at the Vrbetice depot, in the Zlin Region, in October 2014. At the time, the depot reportedly contained weapons that were to be sold to a Bulgarian arms dealer and supplied to Ukraine, to help it in its conflict with Russian-backed separatist forces, the Czech News Agency reported.

The explosion was probably not meant to take place in the Czech Republic, but during the transport of the weapons to another country, the agency said.