Russia is using multiple tools for hybrid attacks on Bulgaria, including spreading disinformation and financing political parties, analysts said on a panel on January 17.
Although Bulgaria is an EU and Nato member, there are strong pro-Russian voices within the country, and these divisions have contributed to the ongoing political instability.
Former minister of electronic governance Bozhidar Bozhanov said during the discussion of disinformation in times of geopolitical crises, organised by Democratic Bulgaria, that the Kremlin is financing many websites that put out anonymous fake news stories that are re-shared on social media by hundreds of users.
“Within three minutes, disinformers create 20 absolutely anonymous websites, fill them in with automated fake content and begin their distribution on social media,” Bozhanov said.
He added that there are two types of media distributing fake news in Bulgaria – those that claim to be well established news outlets and those whose content is paid for directly by the Kremlin.
Russia is using all propaganda tools for disinformation in Bulgaria and the country is threatened by diversion and sabotage activities ordered by the Kremlin, according to Todor Galev of the Centre for the Study of the Democracy NGO.
Galev said that Bulgaria is a country where Russia has used almost all elements of hybrid attacks.
“Only green creatures [a reference to aliens in Bulgarian] are missing,” Galev said.
According to him, Kremlin is supporting Bulgarian political parties that kick off their election campaigns in Moscow such as the far-right pro-Russian Ataka party, while in Bulgaria a network of the Russian secret services, pro-Russian communities, cultural centres and schools is operating.
Galev also said that Russia is directly or indirectly financing many media in the country.
“One cannot control the institutions without controlling the media – Russians know that. There are too many institutional deficits here, inconsistency in decision-making and faint implementation of the EU restrictive measures by CEM [the Council for Electronic Media],” Galev said.
Hristo Grozev, the Bulgaria-born executive director of Bellingcat, said that Russian sabotage groups are being activated and that Bulgaria will be in their focus.
“In 2016, there was a prepared attempt by the [Russian intelligence service] GRU for significant destabilisation of the country under the model used before that in Montenegro,” Grozev said.
In 2016, Montenegrin authorities revealed a coup plot aiming to oust from power the then ruling pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of President Milo Djukanovic. The investigation revealed that two Russians, working for the GRU, were the organisers of the coup plot.
Grozev claimed there was a plan for more than 700 protesters, members of two paramilitary organisations, to take power in Bulgaria. The operation was backed by the Russian Orthodox Church but failed as hundreds of the participants were detained before entering Bulgaria. Only 30 reached Sofia.
Grozev also said that a significant part of the current disinformation in Bulgaria comes as a consequence of the fact that in 2014-2015 print media controlled by local oligarchs who were economically dependent on Russia presented the Russian version of the events in Crimea and Donbass.
Grozev said that Russia started hybrid operations in Bulgaria in 2011 or even earlier, starting with a series of explosions in weapons warehouses.