A spy case which recently unfolded in Bulgaria has starkly highlighted to the propaganda efforts made by Moscow in an attempt to influence the policies of foreign governments.
Sofia and Moscow appeared to be strengthening bilateral relations in September of this year, however a scandal broke when the Russian embassy in Sofia organised an exhibition in honour of the Soviet “liberating” army: an event strongly criticised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria.
Although the Bulgarian government recognises the important role played by the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler’s Germany, it recalled that at the same time, the USSR isolated the Eastern European countries from the rest of the continent during the Cold War.
“The Soviet Army’s bayonets brought to the people of Central and Eastern Europe half a century of repression: a repression of civil consciousness, a deformed economic development and a separation of European countries,” the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasised.
Added to this situation, the recent arrest of a former Bulgarian deputy on charges of espionage on behalf of the Russian state and the exposure of his connections from Moscow – the second case of activity of Russian agents in Bulgaria to be made public by the authorities this year.
Former Bulgarian Socialist MP Nikolai Malinov, currently in charge of the NGO National Movement Russophile, was recently arrested on charges that “he has been in the service of foreign organisations to spy on their behalf.”
Bulgaria’s Attorney General, Sotir Tatarov, spoke about a broad scheme, involving individuals close to Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin and Russian espionage bodies, structures, and projects to influence local politics in Moscow’s favour.
Specifically, Malinov is accused of having acted for two Russian organisations and their representatives, namely The Two-Headed Eagle Society, belonging to the oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, and the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (IRSS), led until 2017 by former spy Leonid Resetnikov. According to Tatarov, the former Bulgarian deputy used this NGO to receive funds from Russia.
In exchange for money, Malinov, who has access to journalists, businessmen and politicians, arranged meetings between Bulgarian officials and his contacts in Moscow, including Malofeev and Resetnikov, and passed on information on “the activities of state bodies”.
In 2014, the former Bulgarian deputy tried to acquire the local TV Station 7 in order to use it as a propaganda platform. The guidelines in this meaning came from Resetnikov, whilst the necessary funds came from Malofeev.
In conclusion, Malinov’s activities were likely to directly affect the national security of Bulgaria and were part of a larger effort to redirect Sofia’s foreign policy to Moscow’s interests, to the detriment of the European Union, according to the Bulgarian Attorney General.
An investigation was opened on July 4, based on Article 105 of the Bulgarian Penal Code, which provides for penalties between 3 and 15 years in prison for espionage.
Russian agents movement
Besides Malinov, several members of the Russian National Movement were detained and and questioned by the authorities. Among them are Iurii Borisov, former editor-in-chief of the socialist office “Duma” and secretary of the NGO in Cause.
The Russophile National Movement declares itself a nongovernmental organisation that aims at the “development of friendship and collaboration between Bulgaria and Russia based on historical traditions, Christian Orthodox and Slavic values.” But, as Bulgarian justice shows, this friendship was likely to undermine Bulgaria’s integrity and security.
Having been released on bail, Nikolai Malinov defended himself by saying that the incriminations against him are malicious.
Konstantin Malofeev and Leonid Resetnikov were issued with entry bans in the Bulgarian territory for a period of 10 years.
Konstantin Malofeev 2
Born on July 3,1974 in Puscino, near Moscow, Konstantin Malofeev started his professional activities in the mid-90s as a lawyer at an investment company active on several continents. In 2005, a founded his own investment company, focusing mainly on the communications sector. At the same time he became involved in politics.
He founded the Vulturul Society with The Two-Headed Eagle Society and the Targrad Platform, favoured by far-right ideologists such as Alex Jones and Alexander Dughin.
The Carnegie Council presents him as a player being in direct contact with the Kremlin, while Le Figaro writes about him as “playing the role of the bridge between the power-brokers in Russia and right-wing movements in Europe. “
In February 2015, “Novaia Gazeta” revealed a plan conceived a year earlier by Malofeev and his people for the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the disturbance of the situation in eastern Ukraine.
In the summer of 2014, he was included on sanctions lists of the United States and the European Union for their role in the separatist war in the regions Ukrainians Donetk and Lugansk. He is considered the “sponsor” of pro-Ukrainian separatists and a financier of some foreign policy objectives of the Russian state. Two separatist leaders from Donbas, namely Aleksandr Borodai and Igor Ghirkin were his employees, according to the Russian press.
In addition to Ukraine, his shadow was observed in 2014 and in Vienna, as the organiser of a meeting of certain far-right parties in Europe, including the FPO (Austria) Ataka (Bulgaria) and the National Front (France).
In April 2019, Malofeev organised a conference in Bulgaria aimed at attracting Bulgarian journalists, as well as public figures and scientists, in association with the Gorceakov Foundation. This Foundation, which offers grants to a variety of reflection centres, NGOs, press institutions and persons with pro-active orientations, is funded by to the Russian Foreign Ministry and cooperates with the secret services, like any structure of its kind in Russia.
Currently, Konstantin Malofeev pleads for a fifth presidential term for Vladimir Putin, who is currently been in power for 20 years.
Born on February 6, 1947 in Potsdam, in the former German Democratic Republic, Leonid Resetnikov is a former agent of Soviet / Russian foreign intelligence services.
Officially, he was active from 1976-2009. Two years before he entered the world of espionage, he graduated from the University of Sofia. After his withdrawal espionage activities, he led the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies from 2009-2017.
From this position, he coordinated the Malinov operation, according to Bulgarian justice. In a post on Facebook, Resetnikov took Malinov’s defence, claiming that he is “a Bulgarian patriot” and that the accusations formulated against him came as a result of the launch by the Americans of the operation “Russian Spies in Bulgaria”.
As for the IRSS, it is an organisation, according to Reuters, of senior Russian secret services.
Founded in 1992 as part of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) by Boris Yeltsin, the IRSS passed in 2009 under the wing of the Russian Presidential Administration. This institute is used by Russian secret services as a cover for operational activities from abroad.
According to Bloomberg editorialist Leonid Bersidski, under the leadership of Resetnikov, the institute terminated its links with extreme right-wing movements. In his opinion, Resetnikov is one of the voices that challenges the Russian president.
Despite regular denials coming from Moscow, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said the accusations brought against Nikolai Malinov are “very serious” and represent “indisputable proof” of Russian influence.
Malinov, Resetnikov, Malofeev, the Two-Headed Eagle Society, the IRSS and the Gorceakov Foundation are just some of the instruments used by Moscow in order to manipulate some states, especially from the Balkans.
This case became public within a few days of the outbreak of clashes between the Bulgarian MFA and the Russian Embassy at Sofia.
A suspicious poisoning
Earlier this year, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov confirmed that Sofia and London are collaborating in the investigation related to the poisoning of the owner of a weapons factory in Bulgaria.
The investigation into the poisoning of Emilian Ghebrev was reopened in early February following an article published by Bellingcat.
According to the Bellingcat investigation site, a suspect in the case of Sergei Skripal (pictured right), the former double spy poisoned on British English territory, was on the Bulgarian territory on exactly on the day of the poisoning of Emilian Ghebrev, patron of Emco.
Ghebrev fell suddenly and lost consciousness on April 28, 2015, in the reception of the hotel “Orbita”, where he was present in the company of a suspect with the code name Sergey Fedotov.
The Laboratory of the University of Helsinki, specialising in chemical weapons, found in Ghebrev’s body traces of two organophosphates. This evidence shows that the Bulgarian businessman was poisoned with a Novichok class substances, like Skripal himself.