Bulgarian prosecutors, security agency probing paramilitary body said to have ties to Russia
The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office has assigned the State Agency for National Security to investigate allegations against a paramilitary body, the Military Union – Bulgaria National Union Shipka, regarding crimes against the republic, according to a December 16 statement by the Prosecutor’s Office.
The statement said that the investigation followed a report received by the Prosecutor’s Office with allegations of possible crimes under the Criminal Code’s special part, chapter one, section one.
That section covers treason, with article 95 referring to the penalties for a coup attempt, rebellion or armed insurrection for the attempted overthrow of the state. Penalities may include imprisonment for 10 to 20 years, life imprisonment or life imprisonment without parole.
The statement said that the public would be informed of the results of the investigation.
Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev told reporters on December 16 that the organisation would also investigated for activities that serve foreign interests.
“We will not allow malicious Russian influence in Bulgaria, which harms not only our interest, but also that of our Euro-Atlantic partners,” Geshev said.
He described the actions of the organisation as worrying for Bulgarian national security and the interests of the European family.
The organisation has been around since about 2014, reportedly initially formed to serve the interests of personnel who had been dismissed from the military. It gained publicity in 2016 when it mounted “migrant hunting” operations at the border, carrying out “citizens arrests” of migrants, even though the concept of a citizens arrest does not exist in Bulgarian law.
According to the organisation’s website, its aims include “counteraction, prosecution, neutralization and punishment of any form of treason on the part of the country’s top state, military and political leadership”.
Media reports and its own videos have shown the organisation being assisted by armed Russians, and at least one report have linked it to Russian intelligence services.
In 2016, members were involved in assaulting people protesting in Bourgas against a visit by the pro-Putin extremist group of motorcyclists, the Night Wolves.
A notable figure in the organisation, Doncho Rusev (also known as Vladimir Rusev and Walter Kalashnikov) depicts himself as a lieutenant-colonel, though he held only the rank of sergeant in the Bulgarian military, before he was discharged.
Human rights organisation the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee publicly called on prosecutors to close down the organisation, as well as the Bulgarian Military Union Vassil Levski, in 2016.
At the time, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said that the two bodies were creating secret and paramilitary structures that aimed to commit crimes, including an attempted coup or an armed uprising to overthrow the state.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committees’s request to the Prosecutor’s Office was based entirely on material from the two bodies’ websites, as well as media reports and interviews given by participants.
These statements included a statement on the website that it was necessary to “liberate the fatherland” from the “criminal model of party oligarchic rule”. The organisation described the Bulgarian state as “illegitimate” and political parties as “illegal and superfluous”.
As of December 2022, the organisation’s website is a smorgasbord of discredited extremist conspiracy theories, including antisemitic tropes, unfounded allegations against vaccines, among many others. The website also urges people to sign up for its “voluntary border patrol” and has numerous photographs of participants, armed and dressed in ersatz military uniforms.
The United States Bulgaria 2020 Human Rights Report said that in June, the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria Shalom reported organizations such as the Revived Bulgaria-Bulgarian National Unity and Military Union-Bulgarian National Movement, or “Shipka,” spreading online propaganda alleging Jews were involved in the Covid-19 pandemic in order to provide “a deadly pseudoantidote” that would lead to the “mass extermination of people.”
The report said that authorities issued a warning protocol to Shipka leader Lyudmila Kostadinova, informing her that she would be held criminally liable if she persisted in making antisemitic statements.
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