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        Perspective: Putin’s assassinsHow a Poisoning in Bulgaria Exposed Russian Assassins in Europe

        Published 23 December 2019

        Western security and intelligence officials say the attempted 2015 poisonings in Sofia of a Bulgarian arms dealer was a critical clue that helped expose a campaign by the Kremlin and its sprawling web of intelligence operatives to eliminate Russia’s enemies abroad and destabilize the West.

        In 2015, four Russian intelligence operatives, using aliases, quietly checked into a hotel in Sofia, Bulgaria. A few days later, one member of the team sneaked into a locked parking garage and coated the handle of the car of Bulgarian arms manufacturer Emilian Gebrev’s car with poison. The only evidence left behind was blurry images captured by the garage’s surveillance camera.

        Gebrev, who was 61 years old at the time, became seriously ill after getting into his car, and rushed to the hospital, where his life was saved. The Kremlin hit men did not give up, and later that summer tried to kill Gebrev and his son while they were vacationing at the family’s dacha on the Black Sea.

        Michael Schwirtz writes in the New York Times that

        The assassination attempts in 2015 were remarkable not only for their brazenness and persistence, but also because security and intelligence officials in the West initially did not notice. Bulgarian prosecutors looked at the case, failed to unearth any evidence and closed it.

        Now Western security and intelligence officials say the Bulgaria poisonings were a critical clue that helped expose a campaign by the Kremlin and its sprawling web of intelligence operatives to eliminate Russia’s enemies abroad and destabilize the West.

        ….

        Entering his third decade in power, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is pushing hard to re-establish Russia as a world power. Russia cannot compete economically or militarily with the United States and China, so Mr. Putin is waging an asymmetric shadow war. Russian mercenaries are fighting in SyriaLibya and Ukraine. Russian hackers are sowing discord through disinformation and working to undermine elections.

        Russian assassins have also been busy.

        In October, the New York Times revealed that a specialized unit of Russian intelligence operatives — Unit 29155 — had for years been assigned to carry out killings, sabotage, political disruption campaigns in Europe.

        Schwirtz adds:

        Based on interviews with officials in Europe and the United States, it is also now clear that the assassination attempts against Mr. Gebrev served as a kind of Rosetta Stone that helped Western intelligence agencies to discover Unit 29155 — and to decipher the kind of threat it presented.

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