Explosions in Czech Republic were part of Russia's special operation against Ukraine - Bellingcat

Explosions in Czech Republic were part of Russia's special operation against Ukraine - Bellingcat

The explosions at munitions depots in Vrbetice in 2014 were part of an operation by Russian special services to limit Ukraine's capabilities to purchase ammunition to counter Russian aggression, according to an investigation conducted by Bellingcat.

According to the report, the 2014 explosions in the Czech Republic were part of a longer-term GRU operation aimed at disrupting Ukraine's capabilities to procure weapons and munitions critical to its defense against Russian troops and Russia-sponsored militants in the war in eastern Ukraine.

The mission included several contiguous operations among which were the explosions at the Vrbetice depots, the assassination attempt on Emilian Gebrev, the head of Bulgaria's arms manufacturer EMCO, and – with increasing likelihood – at least one of the three explosions at munition depots in Bulgaria in early to mid-2015.

In addition, telephone records analyzed by Bellingcat show that several members of a special GRU unit communicated actively with Russian military officers deployed to the Donbas, as well as with local militant commanders fighting against the central Kyiv government, in 2014 and 2015.

Earlier, EMCO confirmed that it supplied ammunition to Ukraine in late 2014. At the same time, sources close to Ukraine military procurement confirmed that these supplies played a crucial role in boosting Ukraine's defense capability at a time when its territorial integrity was at stake.

At the time, EMCO was one of only two EU companies specializing in the production of state-of-the-art munitions compatible with Soviet-era weapons. The other company was "under effective Russian control."

Bellingcat notes that Russian military intelligence approached arms traders who had ammunition compatible with Ukraine's artillery, offering them "significantly above market prices" to purchase their stock, in order to prevent Ukraine's access to the market.

EMCO confirmed that Ukraine imported its ammunition in the 120 mm to 152 mm range for Ukraine in the period December 2014 – February 2015, based on a contract signed on November 10, 2014. Most of the ammunition including the 5,000 large-bore 152 mm rounds was exported in January 2015, with the last shipment realized on February 26, 2015.

The company says part of the contractual commitment remained unrealized, as it says it abstained from shipping to Ukraine after the February 2015 signing of the Minsk-2 de-escalation agreement. The total value of the contract was over EUR 25 million ($30 million). However, not all of the contracted volume was sold to Ukraine.


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