The attempt on Emilian Gebrev’s life was most probably the doing of an officer of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces (GRU), who was connected with the use of Novichok against Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom. That discovery of the investigative journalists of Bellingcat and The Insider concerning the owner of arms companies Emko and Dunarit is so startling that is sound improbable.
Still. Is it possible for an agent of a foreign intelligence service to travel in Bulgaria and attack intended victims unnoticed and undisturbed? To find the answer it is enough to remember what happened in Bulgaria at the time Gebrev was attacked.
The facts are clear
Sergey Vyacheslavovich Fedotov, as his alias now emerges to be, is the third suspect for the attempted murder of Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4, 2018 in Salisbury.
Fedotov was in Bulgaria on the days when Emilian Gebrev was poisoned. On April 24, 2015 he arrived in Burgas on a flight from Moscow and had a return flight on April 30 from Sofia. However, he did not show up for the return flight. On April 28 he showed up in Istanbul, where he bought a last-minute ticket for a flight to the Russian capital.
That was the same day when Gebrev, his son Hristo and Dunarit’s production director Valentin Tahchiev were hospitalized with symptoms of severe poisoning.
The Verifin laboratory at University of Helsinki, which specializes in analyses of chemical weapons, later discovered traces of two organophosphates in their samples showing the use of a Novichok series nerve agent.
In May 2015 Gebrev’s condition rapidly deteriorated and he was readmitted to hospital. At that time Fedotov was again on a three-day trip to Bulgaria. His return to Moscow repeated the same scheme: a return ticket he did not use and a diversion he made – this time through Serbia.
Gebrev tells Bellingcat and The Insider that there are two possible reasons for the attempt on his life: that he has made weapon deliveries to Ukraine or that Russia may have interest in his plant in Ruse.
Back to 2015
What happened in Bulgaria in 2015? GERB’s second government was in power with Boyko Borisov as prime minister. He was in coalition with the pro-European Reformist Bloc, the pro-Russian ABV and the Patriotic Front.
Borisov’s government came to power in the fall of 2014 in the conditions of a grave banking crisis and one bank, Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB), under special supervision. A minority shareholder in it was Russian VTB.
Even before the government was formed Borisov gave notice of the need for replacing DANS director Vladimir Pisanchev and the interior ministry’s secretary general Svetlozar Lazarov. Once he took power however Borisov forgot his intentions. The two were not dismissed from office until March 2015, only after interior minister Veselin Vuchkov filed his resignation in disagreement with Borisov’s policy during the visit of FBI’s head to Bulgaria.
After handing over their offices, which are the highest levels in the security sector and are supposed to be directly responsible for security, Pisanchev was conveniently sent to serve as a consul in Thessaloniki and Lazarov embarked on a political career in the pro-Russian and pro-Putin Ataka party.
Moscow’s offensive in Bulgaria during that period was not limited to that. After KTB was ruled bankrupt with the help of the media attack of the publications of Delyan Peevski, whom Bellingcat and The Insider define as a pro-Russian politician, and the actions of the Bulgarian prosecution, a lot of assets remained “ownerless”.
In 2015 Russian VTB undertook a massive action to take control of Bulgaria’s largest telecom, Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK). Following the completion of BTK’s restructuring three years before, 76% of the telecom was under the control of KTB borrower companies. VTB’s investment arm, VTB Capital, however was a pledge creditor under a €150 million contract.
In November 2015, after the Bulgarian state abandoned the option to acquire control of 76% of BTC, VTB’s investment arm staged a sham auction. As a result, the telecom passed into the hands of a consortium officially led by pro-Russian businessman Spas Rusev, Milen and Georgi Velchev brothers and VTB itself. Later it would emerge that none of the participants in the auction had the resource to pay the price of €330 million. In the end VTB provided €240 million and received BTK’s owner company as a pledge.
According to information of Studia Transmedia a second Russian bank also took part in providing the resource. That was Otkritie, which had been bailed out by the Russian government.
All those events and the consequence in which they happened give an answer to the question how Russian agents can enter Bulgarian territory and try to kill people. The combination of all those facts gives reason to believe that Borisov’s government has conceded Bulgaria to Russia or at least to the Russian secret services.
Gebrev’s murder attempt seems more and more like a warning than a punitive action against him. A warning of what can happen to those who do not cooperate with Moscow.
All that happened less than a year after Bulgaria decided to cancel the construction of South Stream on which Moscow was really keen. And as it emerged later, it was also keen to receive financial compensation for the “investment” it allegedly made in the project. Investment mainly in political commitments that the project would be carried through.