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Figured this probably deserves its own thread.

https://www.bellingcat.com/news/2021/04/20/senior-gru-leader-directly-involved-with-czech-arms-depot-explosion/

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The Bellingcat Investigation Team is an award winning group of volunteers and full time investigators who make up the core of the Bellingcat's investigative efforts.

Senior GRU Leader Directly Involved With Czech Arms Depot Explosion

April 20, 2021
 
  • In 2018, Bellingcat and its investigative partner The Insider identified the two persons whom UK police charged with the Novichok poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal as GRU officers Col. Alexander Mishkin and Col. Anatoly Chepiga. In 2019 Bellingcat identified a third GRU officer implicated in the poisoning operation, Maj. Gen. Denis Sergeev. 
  • In a subsequent investigation Bellingcat identified Denis Sergeev as the senior operative from GRU’s Unit 29155 who oversaw the 2015 poisoning operation of Emilian Gebrev, a Bulgarian arms manufacturer.
  • In 2020, Bellingcat announced that members of Unit 29155 – including Chepiga and Mishkin were present in Czechia during the period when a large arms depot exploded in northern Moravia.
  • On 17 April 2021, Czech authorities announced their own findings that GRU Unit 29155 was behind the explosions of Czech ammunition depots in 2014. Czech police based their conclusion on recently discovered email correspondence showing Alexander Petrov and Anatoly Chepiga, using fake identities, requested access to the ammunition storage facilities at the exact same time that the explosion took place
  • This investigation was in conducted partnership with The Insider, Der Spiegel, and Respekt.cz
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Very good to see that it took them 7 years to read the mails and learn what happened there around the explosions.

Good to see the Russians were after nobodies and non-players, as there were a bigger ammunition depot near the city I was raised, working till ~2000. Bombs for the air force, explosives for the coal mines, plus the usual stuff for the army, 32 storage buildings. And more than 2 men in service. But I must admit, it was never intended to be sold for parties killing RUS soldiers.

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There's certainly domestic disagreements, though who disagrees isn't a surprise. 

Quote

Czech president questions Russian involvement in 2014 blast

2h ago

Milos Zeman has raised doubts over Moscow's complicity in a huge explosion at an ammunition warehouse. It comes after a diplomatic row over accusations of Russian sabotage.

Russia may not have been behind the 2014 blast at a Czech ammunition depot, Czech President Milos Zeman said in a televised address on Sunday.

Prague sparked a diplomatic furor last week when it blamed Russian intelligence agents for the deadly blast, and expelled 18 Russian embassy staff.

After retaliatory expulsions by Moscow, the Czech government ordered a further 63 diplomats and Russian staff to leave by the end of May.

Some fellow European Union members acted in solidarity and also expelled Russian embassy staff. The EU and NATO also issued statements in support of the central European country.

Zeman denounces 'hysteria'

However, addressing the public, Zeman warned against "any form of hysteria" and called on people to wait for the results of a police investigation.

He said there were two working theories of how the 2014 blast at the private ammunition depot happened: one involving Russian sabotage, the other involving an accident due to the mishandling of explosives.

"I take both of these theories seriously and I wish for them to be thoroughly investigated," he said.

"I hope that we will learn the truth," the president said, without ruling out the idea that it was an "intelligence game with serious consequences for our domestic political life."

Two people died in the blast in Vrbetice, in the east of the country. 

Zeman said that there was no evidence that the two alleged spies entered the facility.

The Kremlin has fiercely denied the accusations of Prime Minister Andrej Babis' government. 

Moscow-friendly president

Zeman is widely seen as having close links to the Russian government and was hosted by President Vladimir Putin in Sochi in 2017. He has been in the largely ceremonial role since 2013.

After his address, Czech opposition politicians accused him of engaging in disinformation, and criticized him for casting doubt on the work of the secret services.

Opposition figure Pavel Fischer, who is head of the foreign, defense and security committee of the upper house of parliament, said he saw conclusive, confidential information and that Zeman's doubts damaged the country's reputation.

"Zeman now openly stands on the side of Russia and has become its advocate," Fischer said in a Facebook post. 

https://m.dw.com/en/czech-president-questions-russian-involvement-in-2014-blast/a-57329325

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Romania kicks out Russian embassy official

By Alex Berry | 3h ago

Romania has become the most recent country to eject Russian diplomatic officials from its territory, in solidarity with the Czech Republic over its dispute with Moscow.

Romanian authorities have declared the Russian embassy's deputy military attache, Alexei Grichayev, a persona non grata on Romanian territory, a Foreign Ministry official told local press agency Agerpress.

Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bogdan Aurescu informed the Russian ambassador in Bucharest of the decision in a meeting on Monday.

The step to remove the Russian official was taken in solidarity with the Czech Republic, which is involved in a spat with Moscow, AFP reported.

The Foreign Ministry defended its decision to remove Grishaev from the country in a statement to Agerpress that said "his activities and actions contravene the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969."

[...] 

https://m.dw.com/en/romania-kicks-out-russian-embassy-official/a-57336736

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April 26, 2021
 
  • Bellingcat first reported on the presence of members from GRU Unit 29155 in Bulgaria at the time when a Bulgarian arms manufacturer collapsed into a coma following what was identified as poisoning by an unknown substance. At that same time, the entrepreneur’s son and the production manager of his factory were also poisoned. A possible second poisoning – again with overlapping trip to Bulgaria by members of GRU Unit 29155 –  appeared to have been attempted a month later, days after Gebrev and his son were released from hospital.
  •  We have previously identified and described operations of an elite sabotage unit within GRU Unit 29155. This unit conducts clandestine operations overseas, and we have previously identified its involvement, in addition to the series of poisonings in Bulgaria, in the annexation of Crimea (2014), destabilization attempts in Moldova (2014), a failed coup in Montenegro (2016), WADA-linked surveillance operations in Switzerland (2016-2017), possible destabilization operations in Spain during the Catalonia independence referendum (2017) and the assassination attempt on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, UK (2018).
  • In the first part of this investigation, we identified a total of six operatives from this GRU unit who were directly or indirectly linked to the sabotage of ammunition depots in Czechia in October 2014 and, possibly, also in December 2014. Bellingcat also discovered that Gen. Andrey Averyanov – the commander of Unit 29155 – traveled undercover to Austria and likely on to Czechia during the time the operation took place. This marked the most senior involvement of a GRU officer in a clandestine operation identified thus far.
  • This investigation was conducted in partnership with The Insider and
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Russia expels 7 EU diplomats over 'solidarity' with Czechs

3h ago

Russia has expelled the diplomats from Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in a tit-for-tat move amid a growing row over Czech spying accusations.

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday gave seven diplomats from Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia one week to leave the country.

It is a retaliatory move from Russia after the four countries expelled a total of seven Russian diplomats last week.

[...]

Russia accuses Slovakia of 'false solidarity'

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned Slovakia's move to eject diplomats as "false solidarity."

Slovakia's actions "damage the traditionally friendly Russian-Slovak relations and constructive bilateral cooperation," the statement added.

Slovakia formed a single country with the Czech Republic until 1993. The former country of Czechoslovakia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union.

In a separate statement, Russia said that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia "continue to conduct an openly hostile course towards our country, in this case hiding behind pseudo-solidarity with the indiscriminate actions of the Czech Republic towards Russia."

Balkan state Romania also ejected one Russian ambassador on Monday, also in solidarity with Czechia, but so far there have been no retaliatory steps taken by Russia against its diplomats.

https://m.dw.com/en/russia-expels-7-eu-diplomats-over-solidarity-with-czechs/a-57360148

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Bulgaria investigates arms depot blast link to Russia

35m ago

Prosecutors in Bulgaria say they are collecting evidence about the possible involvement of Russia in explosions at Bulgarian arms depots. Officials claim there may be a link with similar blasts in the Czech Republic.

Bulgarian prosecutors on Wednesday said they were investigating the possible involvement of six Russians in four explosions at arms depots from 2011 to 2020.

The arms stores were holding munitions destined for export to Ukraine and Georgia, the prosecution team said.

Talks with Czech colleagues

Prosecutors' spokeswoman Siyka Mileva said investigators could reasonably assume there were links between the blasts and munitions depot explosions in the Czech Republic in 2014. They also believe there may be connections with the attempted poisoning of Bulgarian arms trader Emilian Gebrev in 2015.

"The collected evidence points so far, with a great degree of credibility, to the conclusion that the aim of the actions of the Russian citizens was to stop the supplies [...] to Georgia and Ukraine," Mileva said. "Evidence is being collected on the complicity of these six Russian citizens."

Mileva said the team of prosecutors was talking to Czech counterparts to investigate possible connections. The 2014 explosions in the Czech Republic were at depots that stored munitions Gebrev owned.

Prosecutors claim the blast at Gebrev's company EMCO in 2011, two explosions at state arms company VMZ in 2015 and a fourth at private arms firm Arsenal in 2020 all had no obvious technical cause.

All were triggered remotely and followed the outbreak of fires apparently timed to allow workers to leave the area and avoid casualties.

Disputes with Russia widen

Moscow and Prague are locked in their biggest row since the end of the Cold War, after Czech officials claimed Russian spies were behind the explosions on its soil.

Russia has rejected the Czech allegations as absurd and also dismissed the Bulgarian investigation on Wednesday.

"Either the Bulgarian side knew nothing and only now, after the Czech Republic announced the 2014 incident, decided to outshine the Czechs and look further back into history,"  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters. "Or they knew about it for all this time but did not make it public for some reason."

[...]

https://m.dw.com/en/bulgaria-investigates-arms-depot-blast-link-to-russia/a-57364673

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Ah, and now every incompetently stored 50 years old ordnance that went boom will be "Russians!"...

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You’re not being paranoid if your neighbor really is out to get you. The Czech explosion was specifically linked to an arms transfer to Bulgaria. It hardly seems like the height of paranoia that a country with a track record of using proscribed weapons to murder people in other countries (including Bulgaria) would be a suspect.

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As far as the Czech thing, its a slam dunk. The Salisbury horologists booked a visit the very day, only a few hours before the damn thing blows up. Of course its entirely possible they are just very, very unlucky....

Added to them being linked to poisoning an arms dealer in Bulgaria, you dont need to be Hercule Poirot to start trying to drawing some fairly remarkable connections.

 

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/11/25/8-russian-agents-linked-to-bulgaria-poisoning-bellingcat-a68306#:~:text=Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev survived the April,agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.

At least eight suspected Russian intelligence officers traveled to Bulgaria around the time a local arms dealer was poisoned in 2015, the investigative outlet Bellingcat reported on Saturday.

Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev survived the April 28, 2015, poisoning attempt in Sofia. Investigators reopened Gebrev’s case in 2018 when he linked his poisoning with that of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.

 

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-04-28/bulgaria-probes-possible-russian-involvement-in-arms-depot-blasts

Prosecutors said the explosion at an arms depot owned by Gebrev's company EMCO in 2011, two blasts at state arms company VMZ in 2015, and a fourth at private arms producer Arsenal in 2020 all lacked obvious, technical causes.

 

At which point you may reasonably think if you are Bulgarian, if one, probably two, why not all of them?

 

The only problem is the motive. We dont really know why they would do this, because not all the plants seem to have been supplying ammunition to Ukraine (though of course, they may have done so when the other facilities blew up), and at least one facility was destroyed before Crimea and Donbas. It may be as simple as someone in Russia wanting to win ammunition contracts and thought they would take out the competition, or they were convinced the ammunition was being funneled by the Saudi's into Syria.

 

There is a precedent for this kind of thing. Back in the 1980's when the Pakistan intelligence service was stockpiling ammunition for supply to the Mujaheddin, some of the dumps in Pakistan seem to have blown up for no particular reason. I seem to recall in one book written by a Pakistani who ran the logistics operation it was suspected that Soviet special forces, possibly the GRU had been involved.

If so, none of this is anything that they have not done before.

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At this clip, pretty soon mutual diplomatic representation will be by the embassy janitors.

Quote

Date 01.05.2021

Author Roman Goncharenko

Russia-West ties hit low with diplomat expulsions

Relations between Russia and the West have reached a new low, as has been illustrated by recent tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats. So what happens now?

In April, about a dozen countries expelled Russian diplomats in protest against the country's secret service operations. The concerted step marks a new low in ties between Russia and the West since the 2018 poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal in the UK.

On Thursday, Bulgaria announced the expulsion of one Russian embassy staffer over investigations into a possible Russian link to four explosions at arms depots between 2011 and 2020.

A day earlier, Russia had declared a total of seven diplomats from Slovakia and three Baltic states persona non grata, after those countries expelled Russian personnel. Romania and Poland have told Russian diplomats to pack up and leave. So, too, have Slovakia and the Baltic states in show of solidarity with the Czech Republic.

[...]

Akin to act of war

Many observers wonder about the timing of this escalation. Steven Pifer, a former US diplomat in Ukraine who now teaches at Stanford University, said Czech authorities thoroughly investigated the 2014 munitions depot blasts. Prague claims the Russian agents behind the explosions are the same agents who poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. The arms depot attack, Pifer said, would be seen in many other countries as "an act of war."

Georgy Kunadze, who served as Russian deputy foreign minister during the 1990s, thinks Prague's confrontative stance against Russia could have domestic reasons. But he said an overall willingness by the West to push back against Russian intelligence operations may also explain the tensions. "There is a lot of talk about the operations of Russian secret agents in other countries, and for good reason," Kunadze tells DW. "This has an impact on Russian diplomats; Russia traditionally responds by expelling the same or an even greater number of foreign embassy staff."

Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, a former German ambassador to Ukraine and Sweden, said we should look at the bigger picture. Speaking to DW, he said ties to Russia have been deteriorating for years: "Russia has been seeking confrontation for sure, yet this has taken on a new quality."

He added that when he served as a West German diplomat in Moscow during the 1980s, cases of spying and diplomats being expelled were not uncommon. These days, however, we are seeing "a spike" in incidents.

[...]

Steven Pifer recalls the year 1986, when he worked in America's Soviet embassy. "We expelled 80 diplomats from Washington and New York by the end of that year." The Soviets, he remembers, "expelled 10 US diplomats" and "barred 200 Soviet citizens" from carrying out ordinary, administrative tasks for the US embassy. "It was tough; each week, one [US] staffer had to take on such tasks." Pifer recalls how he once donned a pair of jeans and jumped behind the wheel of a Helsinki-bound truck to deliver foodstuffs. He expects the spat of expulsions will similarly force embassy staff to take on a broader range of tasks.

The US embassy in Russia has now said it will stop issuing visas as of mid-May. This does not bode well for US-Russia relations.

https://www.dw.com/en/russia-west-ties-hit-low-with-diplomat-expulsions/a-57396860

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  • 2 weeks later...
Quote

May 14, 2021

8:03 PM CEST

Russia deems U.S., Czech Republic 'unfriendly', limits embassy hires

Reuters

The Russian government said on Friday it had officially deemed the United States and the Czech Republic "unfriendly" states, and that U.S. diplomatic missions could no longer employ local staff while Czech missions could employ a maximum of 19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law last month to limit the number of local staff working at foreign diplomatic missions and other agencies, and ordered the government to draw up a list of "unfriendly" states that will be subject to the restrictions.

Relations between Russia and the Czechs were badly hit last month when the Czechs accused Russian military intelligence of being behind a 2014 blast at an ammunition depot, and expelled dozens of Russian diplomats.

Russia rejected the allegations and retaliated by expelling Czech diplomats, and also ordered the Czechs to let go the majority of their local employees in Moscow, many of whom have staffed a Czech hospitality and business centre in the city.

The Czech Foreign Ministry said on Friday the Russian decision was at odds with an international agreement committing countries to enable orderly functioning of diplomatic missions.

The Czechs saw the action by the Russian federation as a further escalation of the row between the two countries, the ministry said in a statement.

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-deems-us-czech-republic-unfriendly-limits-embassy-hires-2021-05-14/

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  • 2 weeks later...

On the other hand, I have memories from the 70s of diplomatic exclusions being regular events. there was always one thing or another bubbling under the surface.

Edited by DB
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As ive probably noted before, we chucked out 90 KGB Goons in 1971 in our largest expulsion. OTOH, we did not, by and large, have bad relations with the Soviets at that time. We were even going significant trade deals with Romania on Aircraft and locomotives around that period.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/25/britain-russia-spies-expelled-archive-1971

Strikes me that Russia is embracing the idea of isolating itself by ridding itself of all communications with its neighbours. Which the Soviets, clueless as they were, were smart enough not to do.

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  • 1 month later...
On 5/25/2021 at 3:22 PM, Stuart Galbraith said:

Strikes me that Russia is embracing the idea of isolating itself by ridding itself of all communications with its neighbours. Which the Soviets, clueless as they were, were smart enough not to do.

What “all neighbors” you mean? Chech Republic discussed in this thread is not even close Russian neighbor  - more over, even if USSR recreated by some magic in its borders, it will still require reunification of Chech  and Slovak Republics back into Chekhoslovakia to have common border with this hypothetic USSR-reborn. Even UK is more Russian neighbor than land-locked Chech Republic – at least free sea transit is available between our two countries.

If you check real neighbors of Russia, we mostly have integration projects with them (like Belorussia), very soft travel regime and easy acceptance into Russian citizenship for their citizens (like Ukraine and Central Asia), or good trade relations (like China). Not mentioning huge infrastructure projects to get more easy travel....

 

 

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