Amid a new round of international tension, Prague is leveling new accusations against Russia. As it turned out, the proverbial Petrov-Bashirov duo blew up two arms depots in the Czech Republic in October 2014, and went on to poison one of the owners of the ammunition stored there with Novichok. As a result, Ukraine did not receive excellent Czech-Bulgarian weapons and shells it desperately needed to defend Donbass.
The Insider and Bellingcat were quick to join the investigation into both cases, apparently using pertinent information supplied them by Western special services, which “found out” last fall that the owner of the warehouses, the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, had been poisoned with Novichok. All this would be funny if it were not so sad. What we now see, however, is a diplomacy of "unsubstantiated accusations" finally shaping up – a 21st century invention in the style of British "highly likely" and Czech "confirmed evidence."
Even during the Cold War years, the notion of “innocent until proven guilty” was never questioned, just like the power of hard evidence because neither Washington, nor Moscow or London had any desire to look stupid in the eyes of the world community. However, the second decade of the 21st century has brought about a new practice when accusations are made based on questionable evidence. With high technologies developing fast, everything is possible: bogus passports that look real, recordings made by surveillance cameras, and fake telephone conversations. Meanwhile, partisan experts give diametrically opposite assessments of such evidence, and neutral arbiters are simply unavailable. So, Western media is chock-full of reports about two super agents Petrov and Bashirov traveling with impunity across Europe and securing the interests of the Kremlin in the dirtiest ways imaginable. The history of their adventures holds no water, as these two “GRU officers” are implicated in every scandal without anyone producing any logical analysis of their alleged activities.
Let's think about why should the GRU (Main Intelligence Department) of the General Staff, the FSB and the SVR (Foreign Intelligence of Russia) – all these century-old agencies with their own research institutes, including medical, and a long history of successful sabotage, make use of Novichok in the first place? Judging by all the scandals, it is an absolutely non-lethal substance that causes mild discomfort. How come that in the 21st century, some of the best intelligence services around do not have something more serious, for example, poisons that cannot be traced in the body? Or, if you want a show punishment, why not use any chemical warfare agents and have a defector, or simply an enemy of Russia, die in great pain for several days, literally falling apart? Finally, you can simply infect an unwanted person with a fatal disease. This is exactly what all spooks were doing during the Cold War. How come all of Russia’s special services are so much in love with Novichok?
Whenever there is a desire and a command from on high, the symptoms and residual traces of Novichok can be found in the body of every oppositionist who fled to the West. Being “poisoned” with Novichok even makes someone feel more important. Just like Pyotr Verzilov, who himself (by the way, in Berlin’s notorious Charité clinic) proved that he was “definitely” poisoned. Well, we have to admit that any “attempted poisoning” recognized as such by the Western political establishment greatly increases the status of Russian fighters against the regime.
Even more importantly, why poison opposition figures and defectors at all? Any dead "democracy fighter" is a godsend for the enemies of the Kremlin, becoming a martyr and an inspiration for more protests. Therefore, is it really appropriate to demonstrably ignore any Western pressure and jail Navalny, who has now become a classic “prisoner of the regime”? By the way, the “efficient businessman” Khodorkovsky received the same status after his political ambitions and indiscriminate ways of building his business empire landed him behind bars. But the case with the explosions in the Czech Republic is the most questionable of them all, being absolutely devoid of logic and showing signs of a massive falsification of evidence – the "diplomacy of unsubstantiated accusations" at its worst. Six-and-a-half years after the blasts in the town of Vrbetice, the Czech Republic officially accused Petrov, Bashirov and the GRU of organizing them. This raises several uneasy questions though. First, what had the Czech counterintelligence been doing all these years with Russian intelligence officers freely moving around under their very noses without even changing their looks? Second, why did Mr. Gebrev, declared the owner of the weapons and ammunition, tell Bellingcat in February 2019 that he planned to supply military goods to Ukraine, only to later retract his words?
Moreover, the Czech government says that it did not really know the contents of those warehouses, thus indirectly admitting its irresponsibility. Petrov and Bashirov did the good thing “blowing up” the warehouses and preventing the ammunition stored there from getting to Donbass. And the final question to all Europeans, who have found themselves the target of an unpretentious propaganda move: do they really believe that there are just two special agents in the whole of Russia who are called upon to troubleshoot any problem? Is the fear of Russian sabotage groups infiltrated into Europe really a thing of the past now that in the limelight of a propaganda campaign are two, a bit comical Russian "James Bonds" who like to "observe the famous steeples"?
However, the situation with the Czech explosions has shown that the propaganda stunt was not prepared properly. Despite the scandal with the mutual expulsion of diplomats, on April 25, an old experienced politician - Czech President Milos Zeman found time on his day off to make an emergency statement where he questioned the blasts’ "spy version" presented by some members of the government. On the one hand, in the parliamentary Czech Republic, Zeman is a largely decorative figure. On the other, Zeman, who is almost 80 now, hates to look like a fool in the eyes of historians. Besides, his statement will hardly change anything. If necessary, the Czech special services will even produce Petrov’s and Bashirov’s fingerprints, which they had been unable to find for more than 6 years.
However, it looks like those who came up with a "brilliant" PR move accusing the GRU for the 2014 explosions have enough problems on their hands even without old Zeman. Indeed, it seems that this whole operation was planned by a State Department intern hired as part of the BLM support policy, and not for his or her professional qualities. The authors of the scandal with the "new probe into the explosions" have actually admitted that since 2014, the Czech Republic has been a staging ground for the transit of obsolete supplies and weapons to Ukraine. This means that the Czechs, who, as we know from history, are generally not very choosy when it comes to arms trade, turned a blind eye to various shady deals with military equipment of unknown origin for their own profit. Moreover, the deliveries were so poorly organized that a couple of warehouses blew up claiming Czech lives and leaving several dozen people homeless. However, had the shells reached the customer, there would have been more casualties, no doubt about that. But what if they were not supposed to reach the Ukrainian positions in the first place? After all, judging by the synchronous and orchestrated statements made by Czech politicians, there were lots of interested parties in that whole story. Who knows, maybe the main intrigue of the 6-year-old events in Vrbetice is “who was behind the delivery of a large consignment of ammunition, and did the Ukrainian customer manage to pay for it before the explosion?”