‘Bulgarian connection’ investigated in Navalny poisoning

German Bundeswehr paramedics bring back an empty Epishuttle stretcher into a vehicle used in the transport of car convoy in front of the clinic after Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny arrived at Charite clinic in Berlin, Germany, 22 August 2020. [Clemens Bilan/EPA/EFE]

German medical specialists are investigating similarities between the attempted poisoning of a Bulgarian businessman and his son in 2015 and the recent poisoning of Russian opposition frontman Alexei Navalny, who is being treated in a Berlin hospital.

Bulgarian businessman Emilyan Gebrev and his son Hristo were victims of a poisoning attempt back in 2015, but the prosecution opened an inquiry only last January, following revelations by the investigative website Belligcat, which found similarities with the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in  March 2018.

Bulgaria indicts three Russian nationals for Skripal-type attempted murder

After years of foot-dragging, Bulgarian prosecutors on Wednesday (23 January) indicted three Russian nationals for allegedly attempting to poison the owner of a Bulgarian arms factory and his son in 2015.

The German news website Der Spiegel, in collaboration with the investigative websites The Insider and Bellingat, reported that specialists from the German hospital Charité, where Navalny is being treated, have been in contact with their Bulgarian colleagues who had treated Gebrev and his son.

Reportedly, the German specialists assume that Navalny has been exposed to an agent of the same family of organophosphates as the one used in the attempt to poison the Gebrevs.

Other substances from this family are insecticides such as E605, as well as nerve agents such as sarin and Novichok, as the West calls chemical weapons allegedly developed during the last years of the former Soviet Union.

The article mentions the “striking similarity” of the symptoms of Gebrev and Navalny, and also says that residues of the toxin were observed in the same way, although the specific substance could not be determined.

“If the use of organophosphates or even a Novichok-type substance is proven, then Navalny could be another victim in an unfortunate series in which those responsible seem to want to leave their mark,” Der Spiegel wrote.

“At the same time, new questions arise because these substances can be applied in liquid form, but also by inhalation and skin contact. In addition, as the examples from Great Britain and Bulgaria show, it seems difficult to dose the substance – in both cases people in the vicinity were affected”.

In Skripal’s poisoning, his daughter was affected, while in the case of Gebrev it was his son.

Sloppy work of the Sofia prosecutor’s office

The assassination attempt in Bulgaria, which preceded that in Salisbury and was probably carried out by the same group of Russian military intelligence, did not lead to any action by the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office for a long time.

It was not until January 2020 that three Russian citizens were indicted, and a month later their real names were revealed.

All of this happened after the publications of the Bulgarian weekly “Capital” together with Bellingcat, and the subsequent investigations by The Insider and Der Spiegel. The Bulgarian case was included in a series of publications of the New York Times that won the Pulitzer Prize.

US sanctions

The United States has said it is ready to help an EU-backed investigation into the Navalny incident. On Thursday, Washington will officially announce that it is imposing sanctions on three Russian institutes that are on the blacklist for creating chemical and biological weapons.

Moscow officially announced in 2017 that it had completed a program to eradicate its chemical weapons, and a year later that it was not engaged in new such developments under international agreements.

The decision, now upheld by representatives of the Department of Commerce, the State Department and the US Department of Defense, Energy and Treasury, now targets:

– 33rd Central Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense of Russia (Saratov region);

– 48th Central Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense of Russia (Sergiev Posad) and its branches in Kirov and Ekaterinburg;

– FSUE “State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology” (GosNIIOHT).

The first two are related to the development and testing of chemical weapons, and the third – to biological weapons, the statement says.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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