A Trail of Bulgaria in the Network of Russian Spying. Is it One More Failure or Already a System?

Recent years have not been successful to Russian spies. The results of their activities are scandals, the outcome of which is expulsion of diplomats residing abroad ‘home’. Within the last four years a number of such diplomat…

Recent years have not been successful to Russian spies. The results of their activities are scandals, the outcome of which is expulsion of diplomats residing abroad ‘home’. Within the last four years a number of such diplomats reached a hundred and a half, most of them actually not even diplomats. We have also cancelled contracts and distrust in everything what is Russian. Anyway, the picture is not good. It is no secret that Russia has spies worldwide. Another question – why are they failing recently – sounds in a more mysterious way?
My generation remembers quite well the attempt to kill the Pope John Paul II. Although a direct political perpetrator of the attempt to kill was a Turkish terrorist well known to secret services, investigators of the conspiracy against the Holy See saw the hand of Moscow there and its intermediaries – a network of Bulgarian spies. “The trail of Bulgaria’ was detected when circumstances of several famous anti-Soviet emigrants were investigated. Thus, special services of the already mentioned country, probably were investigated for a reason. At least in Moscow.
Since then, a lot of things changed, but probably not everything. Bulgaria (by the way, a country that changed its allies several times) became a member of NATO and EU, thus a part of the Western world. In the eyes of Moscow, it has become an antagonistic country, however those, who know the history of Bulgaria and political curves would not be mistaken if they say that there are plenty of liking to Russians and Slavic ‘solidarity’ in this country. Thus, it is quite natural that Bulgaria is a quite good and safe media for Russia to intrude into ‘internal life’ of NATO and other Western structures.
Events of the recent months prove that this is the case or at least it used to be.
At the end of March two Russian diplomats had to leave the country after a spying story had been revealed that was not the first one. Everything is taking place in the country that is obviously dependent on Russia in an energetical point of view, where the shadow business of Russia is operating almost without hiding and unpunished. The General Prosecutor’s office of Bulgaria announced that it arrested a group of six persons that was operating together with the former high rank officer of the Bulgarian intelligence and his wife, collected and passed secret information to diplomats of the embassy, especially in the US military preparation region and planning of joint security, preparation for a hybrid war, distribution of the defence budget and military relations of Bulgaria with other countries.
On the other hand, it is obvious that countries such as Bulgaria are still very vulnerable. A lot of officers of the older generation acquired the military knowledge in academies of the former USSR, thus it is most probable that they have all kinds of relations, sometimes even dangerous. It seems that the main suspect belonged to that group and his wife had a double citizenship of Russia and Bulgaria. The operation of arresting spies was also not very smooth to the very end. They suspected that spies could have informed about her and this extremely sensitive information leaked from its executors.
Even those, who keep extremely sensitive information, will have to learn their lessons. It turned out that spies had a possibility to make pictures of the computer screens, which was showing sensitive information, safely change their mobile phones and SIM cards. Actually, there are plenty of shortages in the security system of Bulgaria. However, something stupid was in the actions of Russians, too. One of the arrested was caught because he was filmed when he was counting money that he received for passing the information. One package of information was worth 1,000 – 1,500 euros. This is not very much. It is just odd that in the century of information technologies, all kinds of e-banking and false shelter companies, payments to the clients are made in cash like in the Soviet flea market.
Similar things happened in Italy almost at the same time. Russians were interested in development of communications there. The captain of the military navy was arrested in the scene of crime when he tried to pass (or sell) sensitive information for 5,000 euros. Italian fees are higher than Bulgarian probably because of well-known reasons. By the way, the government of Italy is also considered to be a country that also is in quite good relations with Moscow. Media of the country recalled year 1989 when the network of spies of the USSR and Bulgaria (sic!) was revealed. The Bulgarian trail….
The explosion in Czechia simply arose a collapse of diplomatic ‘swap’. It turned out that Russian agents destroyed weapon storages where stock were collected for Ukrainians and they had to be delivered not just anyone, but an intermediary from Bulgaria.
Probably Czechs were not so smart or maybe they were very cautious and did not want to damage relations with Moscow, however after events in Bulgaria and Italy they decided not to be silent, moreover, they saw that almost all countries of NATO and the EU have grievances against operations of Russian spies…
However, let’s go back to the question why Russia started failing.
Probably the answer is not very simple, and several factors resulted in failures.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as we all know, is still playing the Cold War and in many cases still implements the politics of already not existing Soviet Union. Thus, the desire to recruit officers and rankers of the antagonist system, who in most cases want just profit, is still the same as it was half a century ago. Times are over when real whizz of the trade were working for Moscow, now we should say that dilettantes are working, who are in hurry to count bankruptcies here and now in order to check whether the embassy did not cheat to them.
Preparation of the Russian agents is also not ideal. We should remember how four Russian agents were caught out when they tried to deliver a hacker equipment not far from the headquarters of the Chemical weapon control in the Hague. Specific bureaucracy also played a role in stupidity of agents. A payment slip for taxi services from GRU headquarters to Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow was found with one arrested person. The ‘qualified’ agent saved the slip simply because he had to take it to the accounting department as a document proving his expenses. Of course, the accounting department needed a real name written there. According to that the whole network in the Netherland was detected, since agents registered cars also by their real names… Probably, just because of the accounting department and saving money.
We can also ask directly. Once they try to poison somebody, so they should do it to the end. Now we can have a picture that somebody needed the Skripals and Navalny not to die and tell a lot. Today nobody knows why we have this situation – is it a defect of work or a very crooked plan?
Almost two hundred years ago when a part of humanity was rejoicing with the illusion of end of the Cold War, warning lights started lighting in a row in the Western countries. They testified that the Western intelligence is getting weaker, and the Russian military and economic espionage is living almost its golden age. It is probable that we start ‘pulling together’.
Are Russians worried about that? The question is also very good. It seems that they are not worried. After a formal end of the state of USSR Russia was (and maybe still is?) considered to be a country of a transitional period. After the end of the Cold War the West decided that Russia can be treated from the Soviet heritage and re-educated in some way by including it to the global market and international Western organizations. The example is Germany and Japan after World War II. Thus, they always get discounts and at the same time certain requirements are set. Formally, Russia agreed with that, however it did not tend to observe general rules applied for all countries and tried to have (formally and at least informally) a special status in all structures.
A ‘privilege card’ was given to Russia in order to facilitate a way towards observance of rules and Russia used the privileges in order to create its own new normal situation. Something similar to a qualitative conversion is going on now. Russia got bored with ‘science and education’ and is expressly and without hiding telling, that it shall not observe the Order, at least it shall not observe the parts that conflict with its interests. This probably comes out because expectations of Moscow did not come true that Joe Biden administration, the European Union and even China would let it live like it used to and would allow to be involved in some kind of geopolitical hooliganism.
How should we act (I have in mind the West in a broad sense)? Bulgarians demonstrated that everybody was fed up with Russia because of its behaviour. So far neither Bulgarians nor Brussels of all institutions said nothing what would be next. Another comment will be just about that…
Post Scriptum. We have to remember that Russia wins not just by force. It wins because the West often simply ignores it undeservedly. As an American geopolitician Edward Luttwak wrote, they, Russians, beat Hitler being drunk, so they might beat NATO drunk, too.’ A Russian, who is a little bit nationalist, would remind that Russians also participated in the decision of the fate of Europe for minimum there centuries after the greatest military cataclysms.
Egidijus Vareikis

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