Tens of thousands of followers, hundreds of shares, quotes in regional media – these are all results achieved by Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, officially a Bulgarian journalist running the Arms Watch portal, but actually a Kremlin’s spin doctor.
In her work as a “journalist”, Gaytandzhieva is particularly focused on military issues, security and the war in Ukraine. She is also known for launching affairs related to weapons from Serbia, which gave her a lot of space in the Serbian media, including the anti-regime ones.
On the other hand, journalists dealing with fact-checking and democratic institutions had issued warnings about her work before she gained the current popularity.
Warnings from the USA
On May 4, 2022, the American Embassy in China issued a warning about China’s efforts to voice and spread the Kremlin’s view of the situation in Ukraine. As stated in the release, the Chinese government officials, state-owned and party-owned media from China were routinely amplifying the Kremlin’s propaganda, conspiracy theories and disinformation.
“This amplification rationalizes President Putin’s unjustified and unprovoked war against Ukraine while undermining trust in the United States and other countries, democratic institutions, and independent media,” the warning from the Embassy stated.
The Embassy mentioned the heavy amplification of Kremlin messaging regarding U.S.-sponsored biolabs in Ukraine. As stated, on March 8, PRC MFA Spokesperson Zhao Lijian began amplifying Russia’s disinformation alleging the US-sponsored biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. The accusations were debunked as disinformation, as reported by the BBC.
However, the release from the Embassy stated that this disinformation was “pushed” by Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, a frequent contributor to U.S.-sanctioned pro-Kremlin outlets South Front and News Front.
“These fabricated accusations build on years of previous opportunistic messaging both by Russia and the PRC. According to a GEC (Global Engagement Center) research partner, PRC amplification of disinformation surrounding U.S. bioweapon laboratories in Ukraine ultimately became one of the PRC’s largest disinformation campaigns since 2018, with messaging targeting audiences in multiple languages and regions around the world,” the Embassy warned.
It was Gaytandzhieva’s texts about alleged biolabs, published on the sanctioned Russian portal South Front, that led journalists from Georgia, members of a network of 100 fact-checkers from 70 countries around the world, to check Gaytandzhieva.
The South Front portal itself, as stated, is administered from Russia and registered on a Russian domain. It often publishes conspiracy theories related to military issues and intelligence data.
According to the fact-checkers, before August 2017, Gaytandzhieva used to work for a Bulgarian newspaper “Trud”, where on July 4, 2017 she published an article on the alleged correspondence between the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Bulgaria related to providing the terrorists in Syria with weapons through diplomatic flights.
She also claimed that the arrangement included the USA, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and other countries.
Gaytandzhieva’s article was reportedly reposted by Bulgarian print media, 80 percent of which is controlled by pro-Russian oligarch and member of the Bulgarian parliament, Delyan Peevski.
“According to the Bulgarian media outlets, the companies affiliated with Delyan Peevski were included in the construction of the South Stream, a pipeline project to transport natural gas of the Russian Federation to Europe via Bulgaria, which actually represented an alternative to a Western-backed proposal for a pipeline, called Nabucco. Nabucco would have reduced Europe’s dependence on Russian gas,” the text states.
Furthermore, the journalists from Georgia state that before working for the “Trud” Gaytandzhieva worked for the fourth most-watched Bulgarian TV channel TV7, controlled by Tzvetan Vassilev, the main shareholder in Corporate Commercial Bank.
Vassilev, who is wanted by the authorities in Bulgaria, has found refuge in Serbia. There is a request for his extradition, while he has sought asylum in Serbia.
The text also states in in 2013, 9.9% of shares of Corporate Commercial Bank were purchased by the largest Russian bank, VTB.
In 2016, Bulgaria filed a $1.3 billion lawsuit against Tsvetan Vassilev, accusing him of using bank funds to acquire property and other assets that led to a subsequent liquidity crisis at the bank.
In 2015, TV7 was taken over by the Louvrier Investment Company, run by Pierre Louvrier.
He is reported to have links to Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, sanctioned by the European Union for his “financial support to separatists” in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, Malofeev is the owner of a conservative TV channel in Russia, Carigrad TV, whose editor-in-chief between 2015-2016 was Aleksandr Dugin.
Awards from Russian Associations
In February 2022, just a few days before the Russian invasion on Ukraine, it was reported on the Internet that Gaytandzhieva had been awarded by the Open Europe Expert Congress.
“I have been fighting many battles to find information and raise awareness about what is happening in the world. And I am thrilled that the expert community appreciates my efforts,” said Gaytandzhieva on that occasion.
Among her achievements as a journalist, her reports on biolabs were also mentioned.
However, the website of the Open Europe Expert Congress does not mention the award given to Gaytandzhieva. Actually, there is no mention of anything, except a meagre explanation that the Open Europe Expert Congress is a “community of civil activists, politicians, diplomats, academicians from the European Union and beyond,“ accompanied by a few more sentences and the EU flag flailing in the background.
However, a closer inspection of the site shows that it was registered in October 2021, four months before it awarded Gaytandzhieva.
What can also be seen is that the site was registered from Russia.
The press release on the award is signed by Ruslan Pankratov, pro-Russian politician and leader of Euro-sceptic RĪCĪBAS.
Pankratov himself has been posting photos from Moscow on his Facebook profile recently.
Misuse of UN hand in hand with Russia
On April 6, Gaytandzhieva took part in an event organized by Russia called ““Threats to international peace and security emanating from military biological activities in regions across the globe”.
The opening and closing statements were given by the Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya. Apart from Gaytandzhieva, who was presented as a Bulgarian investigative journalis, the event was also attended by Arkadiy Mamontov, Russian TV journalist.
The meeting took place at the Economic and Social Council Chamber of the UN and was open to representatives of all members states of the UN and media.
The Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN reacted immediately and stated that Russia was misusing the United Nations as a platform for disinformation and a smokescreen for diverting attention from the brutal war against the Ukrainian people.
“The intensity of this campaign is alarming,” said Tor Henrik Andersen, minister councilor, in his written statement.
However, that is not the only disinformation Gaytandzhieva tried to spread in the public.
Campaign in England
In 2018, the Russian state TV broadcast a fake story about a secret gas test in the London underground. The story falsely reported that the British authorities were subjecting the passengers to secret gas experiments in the London underground.
As the BBC reported, in order to boost the intrigue around poisoning, the Russian TV station called Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva. Gaytandzhieva was shown talking to Russia-1 about how the Pentagon had financed the test of nerve agents on animals in the English scientific park Porton Down. This channel also broadcast her suggestion that Porton Down had been doing experiments on the passengers in the London underground without their knowledge.
According to the BBC, Gaytandzhieva, who has been active in promoting a Kremlin-style narrative on Twitter, had already made the same claim on other sites in English and spread conspiracy theories.
As stated, she quoted official documents to support her claim. However, what she failed to say was that the Department for International Trade of the UK confirmed they would be doing the test, but, as the BBC report clearly stated, the point of the experiment was not to measure any effects on the passengers, but to establish “how quickly would poisonous gases spread in the underground network” in case of a terrorist attack.
The tests would include “non-dangerous materials” according to the report.
From targeting to explosions
In her texts and posts on social networks, Gaytandzhieva has on several occasions targeted Bulgarian tycoon Emilian Gebrev. There have been two attempts to poison Gebrev with a nerve gas, both organized by Russian agents.
Gebrev is an arms dealer and owner of the EMCO company.
His role in selling arms to Ukraine has not been fully confirmed, but media outlets have claimed that EMCO had signed a contract with the Ukrainian government in 2014 related to providing artillery ammunition.
An ammunition storage owned by Emilian Gebrev’s company exploded on 31st July, 2022, in Bulgaria, which led to the whole area being evacuated.
In late March 2022, Gaytandzhieva published documents that were allegedly revealing how tons of Bulgarian weapons were exported to Ukraine via Poland and the Czech Republic in 2020 and 2021.
In her text, Gaytandzhieva claims that the weapons belonged to the company of Emilian Gebrev.