The smirking Salisbury hitman wanted for poisoning Sergei Skripal has been unmasked as a decorated GRU colonel who was awarded the Russian military’s highest honour by Vladimir Putin after his service in Chechnya and Ukraine.
The real identity of one of the two assassins, identified by police as Ruslan Boshirov, is reportedly Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga, 39. He was made a Hero of the Russian Federation by decree of the president during a secret ceremony in 2014.
The disclosure, uncovered by investigative journalist organisation Bellingcat in conjunction with The Telegraph, exposes as lies Putin’s claims that the Skripals’ would-be killers were innocent ‘civilians’.
The real identity of one of the two assassins, named by police as Ruslan Boshirov, is reportedly Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga. He is said to appear in this photo (circled) with a group of fellow military graduates in Chechnya.
Investigative website Bellingcat found Col Chepiga’s passport photo from 2003 (left) and saw it bore a similarity to ‘Ruslan Boshirov’s’ passport photo from 2009 (middle) and the one on his cover passport (right).
Col Chepiga and a second GRU spy, who used the name Alexander Petrov, were charged over the March poisonings by the Crown Prosecution Service, but later appeared on Kremlin-funded news channel RT to reveal their bizarre cover story.
Calling themselves tourists, they said they were only wandering around Salisbury after failing to get to Stonehenge because of snow, and stumbled on the Skripals’ house – as shown on CCTV – because they were looking for Salisbury Cathedral, which has a 400ft spire and is 25 minutes in the other direction.
The pair also refused to say why they booked into an east London hotel 127 miles away – or why it contained traces of Novichok – and failed to explain why they appeared to have no luggage when they hastily travelled home to Russia.
RT even suggested the suspects weren’t trained killers – hinting they were gay lovers on a romantic break because they had ‘little beards, short hair cuts and tight pants’.
Their claims were dismissed as ‘lies and blatant fabrications’ by Downing Street, and look increasingly farcical in the light of the new revelations about Chepiga’s military links.
He was eventually unmasked following a painstaking investigating relying on passport files, leaked address lists and public military information.
Petrov’s true identity is still unclear, but he is thought to have been travelling under his real first name with his surname as an alias, according to The Telegraph, which said police know his genuine identity.
The men, both currently hiding in Russia, are also charged with murdering Dawn Sturgess, a local woman who found Novichok three months after the attack in March and sprayed it on her wrist believing it was Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume. Her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, fell critically ill but recovered.
The Kremlin was branded shameful last night for lying about the pair being holidaymakers. Boris Johnson tweeted: ‘Utterly predictable news that GRU is behind Skripal atrocity.’
Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: ‘It is confirmation of what we have known for a long time – that Russia is serially dishonest in its foreign affairs and has again lied about its complicity. These guys are amateurs. Their cover couldn’t even survive investigation by newspapers.’
The Metropolitan Police, who are investigating the poisoning, and the Foreign Office declined to comment on the Bellingcat/Telegraph report. But British defence minister Gavin Williamson appeared to confirm its veracity on Twitter.
‘The true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian Colonel. I want to thank all the people who are working so tirelessly on this case,’ Williamson said in a tweet, which was later deleted without explanation.
Prime Minister Theresa May did not address the reports directly in a speech to the United Nations in New York, but spoke of ‘the reckless use of chemical weapons on the streets of Britain by agents of the Russian GRU (military intelligence)’.
The Russian Embassy in London was not immediately available to comment. The Kremlin has previously said that the suspects have nothing to do with Putin.
Source: Daily Mail