An investigative group in Britain has claimed that one of the two suspects in the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK is a highly-decorated colonel in the GRU, the Russian Military Intelligence Service.
Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov are facing charges in Britain for trying to kill Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on March 4 using the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok. The use of the nerve agent in the assassination attempt was a violation of international law that prohibits use of chemical weapons.
On Wednesday, the group Bellingcat revealed that Boshirov is actually Anatoliy Chepiga, who was awarded Hero of the Russian Federation, the country’s highest state award, in a 2014 ceremony.
“Following Bellingcat’s own identification, multiple sources familiar with the person and/or the investigation have confirmed the suspect’s identity,” the investigative group, which collaborated with The Insider in its investigation, said in a statement.
“This finding eliminates any remaining doubt that the two suspects in the Novichok poisonings were, in fact, Russian officers operating on a clandestine government mission.”
CBS News, however, pointed out that beyond comparing the photos of Boshirov and Chepiga, the report did not have further proof that the nerve agent attack suspect and the intelligence officer are the same person.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, also rejected Bellingcat’s claim, saying that this is just part of an information campaign against Russia.
Bellingcat depends on social media and open sources in investigations and it has heavily focused on Russia, exposing the country’s military activities in countries such as Syria and Ukraine.
The group said that it received tips from Russian military officers, prompting it to check pictures of graduates of Russian military academies. The investigations eventually led to a man who looks like Boshirov in a group shot.
After searching for further details about the individual, Bellingcat identified the man as Chepiga and later tracked down his 2003 passport file with a picture that bears a strong resemblance to Boshirov.
A former senior Russian military officer also told the group that Boshirov’s experience and rank suggest that the assassination plot was made at the highest level. This is because assassination attempts of less importance would have been done by a lower ranking officer.
Skripal was a Russian spy turned double agent for Britain. He and his daughter survived the assassination attempt and recovered after spending weeks in the hospital. They were brought to a secret location after their release for their security.