- Adam Mesjar
The Influence of Russian Secret Police on the Explosion of an Ammunition Depot in the Czech Republic
The explosions of ammunition depots in the southeast of the Czech Republic occurred in October and December 2014. A series of explosions claimed 2 human victims. It took six long years to clear unexploded objects scattered around the area as a result of the explosion and the subsequent investigation. Remediation and compensation fees climbed to almost 1,400,000,000 Czech crowns (almost 50,500,000 euros, or almost 61,315,000 US dollars.)
The first explosion occurred on the night of October 16th, 2014. The exploded warehouse contained approximately 50 tons of ammunition of all kinds, including artillery ammunition, as well as anti-tank missiles and air bombs. It was this first explosion that claimed the two victims. The then Minister of the Interior, Martin Stropnický, issued a statement stating that a large part of the blame for the explosion lies with the two deceased people: “Most likely, the explosion was not spontaneous. It is related to two people, but we're investigating." He added. The case was handed over to the police as a general threat of negligence.
According to current information, the current Minister of the Interior, Jan Hamáček, states that warehouse number 16 exploded prematurely. The explosion was not to take place until December 3, when the contents of the warehouse were to be transported to Bulgaria.
The second uncontrolled explosion occurred on December 3rd when a warehouse containing approximately 14 tons of artillery mines and grenades exploded. Representatives of a private company that rented the warehouse immediately after the explosion announced that the warehouse could not explode arbitrarily. According to Minister Stropnický, this building was inspected in October after the first explosion and no danger of a risk of explosion was found.
After the second explosion, the adjacent villages (approx. 400 inhabitants) were temporarily evacuated and the incident of 16th October was reclassified, and both explosions have since been dealt with as a deliberate crime.
There are about 50 buildings in the area of the Vrbětice ammunition depot and it should be noted that both explosions took place in buildings rented by the private Czech company Imex Group, which deals in the arms trade.
On April 17th, 2021, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, referring to the Security Information Services (BIS), the National Center Against Organized Crime and the police, stated that there was a real risk and reasonable suspicion that the Russian intelligence service (GRU) were responsible for the blasts, specifically units 29155 of the GRU. Foreign Minister Jan Hamáček called it a terrorist act and in response he announced that the Czech Republic would expel 18 employees of the Russian Embassy in Prague, identified by the Czech intelligence services as officers of the Russian services SVR and GRU. However, Russia did not lag behind and immediately rushed with an answer to the reaction of Czech diplomacy. The Kremlin expelled 20 employees of the Czech embassy from Moscow, including Luboš Veselý, the deputy Czech ambassador to Moscow. Ambassadors on both sides remain at their posts for the time being.
Following the latest information, the Czech police announced a search for two GRU agents who were in Czech territory in 2014, when the explosions took place - Alexander Petrov (real name Dr. Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin) and Ruslan Boshirov (real name: Anatoly Vladimirovich Chepiga, Colonel of Russian military intelligence GRU), although the police did not have direct evidence that both men physically entered the complex, they considered this hypothesis to be highly realistic. According to the media, they were supposed to be the same persons that investigators in England identified as possible perpetrators of poisoning by double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, Britain in 2018. Police verified that both men arrived in the Czech Republic on October 13th, 2014 by a normal Aeroflot flight from Moscow. They left Czech territory on October 16th, when they went to Austria and from there flew back to Moscow. At the turn of 2014 and 2015 (after the explosion in Vrbětice), Vladimir Putin awarded both agents with the High Order of the Hero of Russia. Upon entering the Czech Republic, both identified themselves with cover passports issued by GRU intelligence, which they later used during the event in Great Britain.
In January 2014, nine months before the Vrbětice ammunition complex exploded, Mishkin visited the Czech Republic with the commanding officer of this GRU unit, Major General Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeyev, who came under the pseudonym Sergei Fedotov. The officer also commanded an operation in which Sergei Skripal was poisoned and traveled to Sofia at a time when the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev was to be killed in a similar way. Coincidentally, a warehouse exploded in Bulgaria in 2011, where the military equipment of three companies was stored. One of them was the Imex Group. One of the key pieces of evidence is an email requesting "Andrei O", later identified as GRU 29155 Commander Andrei Averjanov, acting under the code name Andrej Overjanov, to enter the site inspection for both agents under the pseudonyms Popa and Tabarov.
According to investigators, GRU agents visited the ammunition depot on October 15, 2014, although there is no direct evidence for this. However, a source close to the investigators let it be known that the ammunition was set for customers abroad, but the explosion probably happened earlier. Most likely, the victim was to be the one to whom the shipment of weapons was to be delivered. According to the Czech server iRozhlas, the target of the attack was a Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, whose intelligence services of the Russian Federation were trying to poison with an unknown poison in 2015 as well.
According to the editors of the Czech independent weekly Respekt, the reason for the GRU attack may have been to prevent the supply of ammunition and weapons to the Ukrainian army during the war in eastern Ukraine, or to prevent supplies to insurgents in the Syrian civil war against President Bashar al-Assad, who is an ally of Vladimir Putin.
The revelation of this case will have an adverse effect not only on the completion of the Dukovany nuclear power plant. According to the Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlíček, the Russian company Rosatom, which is one of the main bidders, will be excluded from the tender within a few days. The trade in Russian Sputnik V vaccines, which the Czech government has been considering, also seems almost out of sight. Of course, the Kremlin denied all the allegations, and Vladimir Dzabarov, deputy chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, called the Czech authorities' claims nonsense and a fabricated situation in support of the United States.
The President of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, who is a known supporter of Vladimir Putin, has not yet commented on the matter.