Top investigative journalist warns of Russian sabotage in Bulgaria

According to Christo Grozev, a leading journalist with the open-source investigative journalism group Bellingcat, there is a danger of additional Russian sabotage efforts against Bulgaria’s military sector.

Mr. Grozev participated in the conference “The influence of disinformation in the settings of geopolitical crises,” organized by the pro-European coalition “Democratic Bulgaria” via video call.

The Russian Interior Ministry placed Christo Grozev on its wanted list in December 2022. The crime Grozev was suspected of was not disclosed, and no additional information was made public.

Grozev has caused significant damage to the Kremlin, having played crucial roles in several of Bellingcat’s investigations on Russia’s crimes, including the 2018 poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, and the downing of the MH17 by Russian and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.

During the event, Grozev stated that in April 2016, the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) planned to destabilize Bulgaria drastically with two paramilitary groups modeled after the model used in Montenegro.

According to the preliminary organization, some 700 people from the two paramilitary organizations planned to seize power, according to Grozev. He claims if the attack had been successful, Bulgaria would have been seriously destabilized.

This action was carried out with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church. Still, it failed due to the paramilitary groups’ preventive arrest and detention of hundreds of participants, just 30 of whom made it to Sofia, according to Grozev. 

Grozev did not provide any other information on the matter. It is about the so-called planned Operation Liberation, which failed on April 20, 2016, according to Euractiv sources. Then thirty representatives of radical far-right organizations, describing themselves as the “transitional all-Bulgarian people’s administration,” came out to protest in front of the National Assembly.

The organizers were the Bulgarian Military Union “Vasil Levski” and BNO “Shipka,” joined in the Committee for National Salvation “Vasil Levski.”

Six years later, at the end of 2022, the State Agency for National Security said that pro-Russian extremists were being investigated for a crime against the state. These two pro-Russian organizations have kept close touch with the pro-Putin organization “Night Wolves,” which has a presence in Bulgaria.

“Although most of the major media today covers Russian aggression rather objectively, the same cannot be said about the last time, particularly 2014-2015. During that time, various print newspapers and television channels controlled by oligarchs with economic ties to Russia projected the Russian narrative about what was happening in Crimea and Donbas, that the Kyiv regime was carrying out terrible acts,” Christo Grozev said at the conference.

The journalist highlighted that aggressive Russian measures on Bulgarian territory have been ongoing since 2011 when a series of explosions in military industry warehouses began.

“These situations have received little attention. Most of the population is unaware that Russia has been conducting military and subversive operations on Bulgarian territory for over ten years. Suppose this material had become a part of the information agenda. In that case, a big segment of society could have developed an opinion about Russia’s participation long ago and would be far more critical of the Kremlin’s words today,” Grozev added.

The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office stated that it is investigating these incidents. Still, there has been no news on the outcome of the investigation.

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