Russia’s “tourist” operation in Europe: the goal is very clear

Bellingcat concludes, on the basis of evidence received, that the explosions at an arms depot in the Czech Republic, which the Czech authorities accuse of Russian military intelligence, and the assassination attempt on Bulgarian arms dealer Emeljan Gebrev (with undetected poisons) and, possibly, warehouses in 2015, may be interconnected and was part of a Russian military intelligence operation.

The operation was designed to prevent Ukraine from acquiring the weapons needed for the conflict in Donbas against Russian-backed separatists or Russian forces.

Bulgarian businessman E. Gebrev confirmed that at the end of 2014, his company Emco signed agreements on the supply of weapons to Ukraine. Specifically, it was handcuffed over Ukraine’s armed forces, according to The New York Times.

Operations in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria were carried out by officers from the military unit N29155, which is considered a special branch of Russian military intelligence and is headed by Colonel General Andrei Averyanov.

Among the aforementioned military intelligence officers were also infamous Anatolijus Čepiga and Alexander Mishkin, who traveled to Europe with passports of Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov; they are associated with the poisoning of Sergei and Julia Skripali in Salisbury.

Anatolijus Čepiga, Aleksandras Miškinas

These men told Kremlin-funded television RT in Solsbury in 2018 that they had anything to do with tourist purposes and had nothing to do with the assassination attempt.

According to Bellingcat, E. Gebrev was one of the main suppliers of weapons to Ukraine. In 2014-2015, E. Gebrev’s company Emco delivered a large amount of 120-152 mm caliber ammunition to Ukraine.

In addition, E. Gebrev assures that the ammunition that was stored in the warehouse in Vrbetice was not intended for Ukraine. As Bellingcat, the director of the Czech company Imex, which manages the warehouse, wrote to E. Gebrev in early October 2014, demanding that the ammunition belonging to Emco be removed from the warehouse by 15 October.

Imex also said that part of the ammunition – almost 10 thousand. 120 mm caliber mortar mines and more than 16 thousand. 152 mm caliber ammunition – unnamed third parties wanted to buy back.

It can be said that those persons were A. Čepiga and A. Miškinas, who at that time used the passports of Ruslan Tabarov and Nikolai Pope, respectively. The ammunition stored in the warehouse in the Czech Republic would have been believed by the Ukrainian armed forces, so Russian military intelligence thought that Gebrev planned to send them there.

Mr Gebrev, as can be seen from the correspondence, did not plan to remove the ammunition from the warehouse in the Czech Republic and did not intend to hand it over to Ukraine. Only here, according to investigators, Russian military intelligence may not have known about it, so they decided to blow up the ammunition.

In addition, it can be concluded that the explosion planned for a specific time was intended to be carried out, only those 50 tonnes in the N16 warehouse already exploded on 16 October 2014. It can be speculated that this was due to the fault of the warehouse workers (two people died during the explosion). On December 3 of the same year, another explosion broke out in warehouse N12. This warehouse was a kilometer away from the first, with another 100 tons of ammunition stored there. Fortunately, this time without casualties.

Bellingcat also publishes more details about Russia’s military intelligence attempt to assassinate Gebrev in 2015. Some of the officers involved in the operation allegedly had previously been involved in the operation in the Czech Republic. Among them was Colonel Alexei Kapinos.

The latter, using diplomatic cover, flew to Thessaloniki (Greece) on April 25, but did not fly back from Thessaloniki because he returned to Moscow on another route.

Bellingcat has not yet been able to find out if he went to Bulgaria. It is believed that it was he who was able to bring the poison with which E. Gebrev and two of his employees were poisoned on April 28 (all three survived the poisoning).

There were more Russian military intelligence officers in Bulgaria at the time.

Denis Sergeyev and Yegor Gordienka are also mentioned among the participants in the diversion. On February 15, the officers, along with Sergei Lutenka, Russia’s third military intelligence officer, flew to Bulgaria, stayed for a week at the Hill Hotel, located near the Emco office, and one in three asked for a hotel room overlooking the company’s underground garage entrance.

During another visit by three Russian military intelligence officers, which lasted from April 24 to 29, they again stayed at the office of E. Gebrev’s company at the Kempinski Hotel. Once again, one of them demanded a room with windows overlooking Emco’s headquarters.

A week after their departure, on February 22, a new shift from the same Russian military intelligence arrived in Sofia. The group also included one of the main participants in the diversion operation in the Czech Republic, Nikolai Yezov, an official who accompanied General A. Averyanov during his visit to Austria and the Czech Republic, who returned to Russia only on November 3, two weeks after the first explosion, Bellingcat reports. “.

Those people also stayed at a hotel near the Emco office.

Emilianas Gebrevas

Emilianas Gebrevas

The second shift of the reconnaissance was supplemented by Colonel Ivan Terentiev, who was traveling in the name of Ivan Lebedev. As stated in Mr Terentiev’s curriculum vitae, he was at that time the commander of the Special Operations Division 29155, which means that he was essentially the Deputy General for Secret Operations. Like General A. Averyanov, his deputy traveled infrequently, so his presence in Sofia in 2015 once again proves the importance of that mission for all of Russia’s military intelligence.

It will be recalled that that year the Bulgarian Public Prosecutor’s Office received recordings of video cameras in the parking lot of the Orbita Hotel. They captured a Russian military intelligence officer who tried to poison E. Gebrev.

Bulgaria announced the search for three Russian citizens accused of assaulting a businessman in 2015. These are Georgy Gorshkov (Sergei Gordinenka), Sergei Pavlov (Sergei Liutenka) and Sergei Fedotov (Denis Sergeyev). The Institute of Forensic Science and Criminology of the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior found that the poison used to poison E. Gebrev was chlorpyrifos.

In mid-April this year, the Czech authorities said investigators had concluded that Russian special services had contributed to the explosions at ammunition depots in Vrbetice. Czech Republic sent out eighteen diplomats from the Russian embassy in Prague, calling them military intelligence and internal intelligence officers.

When Russia later declared twenty Czech diplomats undesirable, the Czech Republic decided to expel another 60 members of the Russian diplomatic mission, including those with diplomatic passports, as well as administrative and technical staff.

Moscow calls the accusations against it unfounded and claims that the actions of Prague are seriously damaging to bilateral relations. Russia also categorically denies that the country’s special services are in any way involved in the attempt to poison businessman Gebrev.

Bulgaria announced on Thursday that it would send one Russian diplomat after the country’s prosecutors said on the eve that a link had been established between six Russian citizens and several explosions in arms depots in 2011-2015.

“The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry has announced another Russian diplomat persona non grata,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement urging Russia to cooperate with Bulgarian investigators to “find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

EU member Bulgaria has until recently maintained close ties with Russia, but since October 2019, it has sent seven more Russian diplomats and another employee of the Russian embassy for various espionage scandals and other allegations.

Bulgarian prosecutors on Wednesday said they linked six former Russian citizens in Bulgaria to four explosions in a weapons depot in the country between 2011 and 2015.

Moscow, for its part, has accused the Bulgarian authorities of beating Prague, claiming that the Russian secret services are responsible for the 2014 explosion in the Czech Republic.

Following the Prague allegations, some EU countries, including the Baltic states, sent Russian diplomats in solidarity with the Czech Republic, while Moscow responded in the same way.

According to Sofia, the four explosions may have links to a similar incident in the Czech Republic.

Moscow denies having contributed in any way to the 2014 bombing.

“Bulgaria wants to maintain mutually beneficial relations on an equal footing with Russia,” the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

It adds that the ministry “demands effective cooperation from Russia in order to clarify the facts related to the events in our territory”.

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