One of those involved was tasked with eliminating Ukraine’s political leadership at the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion.
The GRU Unit 29155, headed by General Averyanov, who came to prominence after the Salisbury poisoning, had been organizing explosions in Europe long before the war against Ukraine began.
The first sabotage attacks were carried out in Bulgaria to prevent the supply of weapons to Georgia. Despite the fact that the explosions resulted in human casualties, the perpetrators were never punished and continued their sabotage activities. Later, as if nothing had happened, they were employed at the Russian presidential administration and since then participated in official events under their real names.
General Averyanov as part of the official Russian delegation. Photo credits: theins.ru
On July 31, 2023, at a roundtable on the last day of the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimi Putin presented his team of officials to the visiting African leaders. One of them introduced himself as “Averyanov, Andrey – Security.”
Averyanov became famous all over the world as a GRU general who led the same military unit 29155 responsible for the sabotage and Novichok poisoning in Europe. It was his team that poisoned the Skripal family and Bulgarian arms dealer Gebrev. It was his group that organized the explosions at arms depots in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
The Insider’s investigators believe that the GRU general’s appearance before African leaders was not accidental. A month later, after a plane with the head of the PMC Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin and his deputy Dmitry Utkin onboard exploded in the air, General Averyanov, as the deputy head of the GRU, began traveling around Africa and subordinating mercenaries to the GRU. At the same time, exactly two months after the failed coup, Prigozhin’s military empire, once created by the GRU, came under the direct and official control of military intelligence.
As The Insider found out, Averyanov and his subordinates have been organizing explosions in European countries since 2011. At that time, Russia was still a member of the Group of Eight, and all world leaders shook hands with Putin and Medvedev at ceremonial events and discussed the possibility of a visa-free regime.
In 2008, Averyanov was appointed commander of GRU Unit 29155. He recruited several dozen young officers of the GRU and special forces officers. Over time, the unit grew to about 70 people. Its task was to organize sabotage abroad.
GRU officers first put their skills to the test in 2009. The Bulgarian company EMCO bought thousands of Soviet-style artillery shells that were decommissioned by Slovakia in 2009 due to the transition to NATO standards. The GRU was confident that EMCO would sell those shells to Georgia, and after the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, Russia feared that Georgia would want to regain its territories.
The 6,000 shells purchased by EMCO were stored in a Czech depot near Vrbětice and were to be shipped to Bulgaria between October 4 and November 4, 2011.
At 9 a.m. on November 12, 2011, the ammunition storage depot located near the Bulgarian village of Lovnidol, where EMCO had stored the 3,120 152-millimeter shells it had recently received from Vrbětice, went up in flames.
Three IEDs prepared by the Russians with the proposed camouflage packaging
Five months after the incident, Bulgarian investigators discovered an unexploded IED approximately 200 meters from ground zero. The retrieved unit was described as “an object resembling plastic explosive, covered with polyethylene wrapping and with an attached aluminum cylinder with exposed wires sticking out.”
The forensic analysis ordered by the police concluded that the improvised explosive device did not fully explode due to the fault in the triggering mechanism.
Explosions in Bulgaria
Not long after the incident, Bulgarian investigators discovered evidence that the massive explosions had been caused by “the embedding of an improvised explosive device.” Nevertheless, three years after the explosions, Bulgarian prosecutors closed the investigation due to an absence of evidence connecting foul play to any perpetrators.
Convinced of their impunity, GRU officers continued operations in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, resulting in significant civilian casualties.
Less than a year after Lovnidol, another ammunition depot in Bulgaria exploded, where the ammunition intended for export to Georgia had been stored. The explosions were so powerful that the country’s seismic laboratories recorded an earthquake measuring 1.5 on the Richter scale. The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation for several years but found no evidence of sabotage, so it charged three officers of the depot with negligence.
One of the unexploded IEDs found near the explosion site
On March 21, 2015, more than 2,000 rockets and anti-tank grenades intended for export to Ukraine exploded in a depot in Iganovo, near Sopot, home to the country’s largest arms manufacturer.
Before each explosion, it was established that some members of Averyanov’s unit had crossed the border the day before and were in the countries where the explosions occurred.
How GRU officers arrived at the depot in Lovnidol in 2011
Despite having been serially compromised by Bellingcat and The Insider for his black-ops activities, only Colonel Vladimir Moiseev remains an active member of Unit 29155. Moiseev was deployed in the early days of the war as part of an advance assassination team in Ukraine seeking to kill Ukrainian political leadership and facilitate the country’s invasion and occupation.
According to The Insider, GRU unit 29155, led by Andrei Averyanov, organized sabotage operations in Bulgaria in 2011, 2012 and 2015 to prevent the shipment of weapons to Georgia and Ukraine.
In 2008, Andrei Averyanov headed the GRU unit 29155, created to conduct sabotage operations abroad
In 2008, Andrei Averyanov, who in 2004 held the position of junior attaché at the Russian embassy in Warsaw, was appointed commander of unit 29155 of the GRU. This group of young GRU and special forces officers, which grew over time to about 70 people, is intended for sabotage operations abroad.
Journalists learned that in his new position, Averianov received a cover passport in the name of Andrei Overyanov.
For the first time, according to new documents, he went to Dushanbe in September 2009, and later traveled with them to Europe: to Warsaw (September 12, 2010), Belgrade (November 19-29, 2010) and Chisinau (March 3-11, 2011 ).
According to The Insider, the purpose of these trips was to prepare a series of operations in Europe.
According to The Insider, in 2011, GRU agents presented Averyanov with radio-controlled bombs
According to correspondence from the previously hacked email of Averyanov’s assistant and data from the air travel database, shortly after returning from Moldova, Averyanov flew to Krasnodar with four members of group 29155. According to the reports they sent to Averyanov, each of them was asked to present a version of a radio-controlled bomb and demonstrate its effectiveness.
The description sent by Major Moiseev (in 2018 Bellingcat and The Insider revealed his involvement in organizing the unsuccessful coup in Montenegro in 2016) states that for activation a person must be at a distance of 300-700 meters from the detonator, and then it will take from 5 to 55 minutes to leave the site of the planned explosion.
Journalists learned that group 29155 organized the bombing of an ammunition depot in Bulgaria in 2011
According to The Insider, after learning that the Bulgarian company EMCO had bought Soviet-style artillery shells that Slovakia had written off in 2009 when it switched to NATO standards, the GRU believed that it could sell the shells to Georgia.
The 6,000 shells purchased by EMCO were stored in a Czech warehouse near Vrbetice and planned to be sent to Bulgaria between October 4 and November 4, 2011. It is not known exactly how the GRU agents got into the warehouse, but they were probably able to install remote-controlled explosive devices in the ammunition shipments ready for shipment.
Journalists established that during this period, agents of unit 29155 visited there under fictitious names: Nikolai Kononikhin (in life Nikolai Yezhov), Sergei Ryzhikov (Sergei Romanov), Overyanov himself, Colonel Alexey Kapinos (officially Kapinos was the deputy military attaché in Kiev, and in actually belonged to sabotage group 29155), Rustam Dzhamalov (Rustam Jafarov) and Ruslan Boshirov (Anatoly Chepiga), who later, together with Alexander Mishkin (Petrov), poisoned the Skripals in Salisbury. Jafarov and Chepiga left on October 25, 2011 – on the same day the largest batch of shells was sent to Bulgaria.
Judging by the border crossing data provided by CyberPartisans, on November 10, 2011, Ezhov and Romanov crossed the Belarusian-Ukrainian border at the Novye Yarilovichi checkpoint – they probably went from Ukraine to Bulgaria to activate the detonator. On November 23, a car with agents crossed the border into Russia at the Goptovka checkpoint north of Kharkov.
On November 12, a powerful explosion occurred at an ammunition depot in the Bulgarian village of Lovnidol, where EMCO was storing 3,120 shells received a few days earlier from Vrbetice. Bulgarian law enforcement officers found evidence that the warehouse was blown up by an “improvised remote explosive device,” but three years later the prosecutor’s office closed the investigation due to lack of evidence.
According to The Insider, the following year, agents from Unit 29155 blew up a second warehouse in Bulgaria.
Less than a year later, on June 5, 2012, another warehouse was blown up in Bulgaria – near the city of Stralzha. Ammunition was also stored there, which was planned to be sent to Georgia. Three company employees were killed, 18 were seriously injured, and more than 150 people were evacuated from neighboring villages.
A few years later, Bulgarian prosecutors charged three employees of a warehouse management company with negligence in storing ammunition.
The Insider found out that one of the participants in the meeting in Krasnodar, Vladimir Moiseev (Vladimir Popov according to legend), booked a ticket to Bulgaria from Odessa on June 5, but two hours after the explosion he bought a ticket directly to Moscow.
The Insider learned that in 2015, another warehouse exploded in Bulgaria with the assistance of GRU agents – the evidence was later destroyed
According to The Insider, on March 6, 2015, Popov arrived in Bulgaria, replaced three “colleagues” there who arrived on February 25, and stayed in the country until March 11. Ten days after the departure of Moiseev (aka Popov), on March 21, 2015, more than two thousand missiles and anti-tank grenades that were planned to be exported to Ukraine were blown up in a warehouse in Iganovo.
All evidence collected at the scene of the explosion was sent to the forensic center in Sofia until the investigation was completed, but it disappeared when, on May 31, 2015, a fire broke out in the building where they were stored under unclear circumstances.
Journalists learned that two days before the fire, a representative of unit 29155 arrived in Sofia; a few hours before the incident, he left by car for Serbia.
Some members of Unit 29155 now occupy management positions in Russian regions, and Averyanov became deputy chief of the GRU
According to The Insider, Andrei Averyanov rose to become deputy head of the GRU and Putin’s confidant – it was he who, after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, went to Africa to reassign the former Wagnerites.
Some of the agents of group 29155 occupy high positions in Russian regions: Ivan Terentyev (aka Lebedev) – chief federal inspector for the Sakhalin region, Nikolai Ezhov (Kononikhin) – chief federal inspector for the Magadan region, Rustam Dzhafarov (Dzhamalov) – first deputy representative of Putin in the Far Eastern region, and Sergei Romanov (Ryzhikov) was Russia’s trade representative in Thailand for almost ten years.