A suspect in the poisoning of a former Russian spy has been named as a highly decorated military doctor, after an investigative group discovered that the man’s grandmother had boasted that her grandson once shook hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and she had a photograph to prove it, according to The Guardian.
But the report has not been confirmed because the grandmother vanished from her small village in northern Russia on October 6, after the private investigative group Bellingcat announced that it would soon reveal the poisoning suspect’s true identity.
On March 4, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were attacked and poisoned near Skripal’s home in Salisbury, England. The ex-spy had been living there since he had turned against Russia and had begun working for British intelligence. Both Skripal and his daughter were badly injured but survived — along with 48 bystanders also exposed to the Russian-made nerve agent Novichok. The victims of the nerve agent also included a police officer who responded to the scene, according to the BBC.
Another British woman in the region, Dawn Sturgess, was inadvertently exposed to the nerve agent several months later. She died as a result, The Guardian reports.
Two men claiming to be merely Russian “tourists” were identified by British investigators, who also said that both men were undercover agents of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, according to CNN. The GRU is the same Russian spy agency named in indictments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as carrying out the 2016 United States presidential election cyber attack, per CNN.
Bellingcat has identified both of the suspects — who traveled to the United Kingdom under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — as Russian military officers who have earlier been awarded the prestigious “Hero of Russia” medal by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
Bellingcat — a private U.K.-based group that uses open-source data and photographs such as images from social media to investigate various warfare and intelligence operations — said in September that it had identified “Boshirov” as, in reality, as Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga. Chepiga is a Russian military intelligence officer who, as The Independent reports, played “a key role” in a brutal Russian attack on a Ukrainian air base in Crimea in 2014, shortly before Russia annexed the territory.
On Tuesday, Bellingcat reported that the second suspect, “Petrov,” was actually a Russian military doctor, Alexander Mishkin, who was born in the tiny Russian village of Loyga. He was raised there by his grandmother — who remained in the village at least until three days ago when she disappeared. Her disappearance comes after Bellingcat said that it was about to reveal the poisoning suspects true identity, according to British media outlet, the Mirror.
The two suspects were interviewed last month by the Russian state-run media outlet RT, as seen in the video below. In the interview, as the Washington Post reports, both men claimed to have visited the U.K. merely as “tourists.”
But the interview backfired with audiences, according to analysts Precious N. Chatterje-Doody and Rhys Crilley of the Reframing Russia research site.
“Previous data show that RT viewers were generally skeptical of the official British account of the Skripal poisoning,” the analysts wrote. “But (the) interview with the suspects marked a dramatic change — the top 100 most-liked comments included many from viewers who felt the interview was ridiculous and that the suspects’ stories were implausible. Fully 74 percent were critical of the claims presented by the suspects.”