Putin's 'tourist' accused of nerve agent attack turns out to be a highly decorated Russian intelligence officer

London Metropolitan PoliceRuslan Boshirov, one of the men accused of poisoning the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in March.
  • The UK has accused two Russian men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, of poisoning a former Russian spy in England earlier this year.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin described the two men as civilians. Petrov and Boshirov also claimed they visited the UK as tourists.
  • The investigative-journalism site Bellingcat on Wednesday identified one of the men as Col. Anatoliy Chepiga, a high-ranking intelligence official in Russia.
  • Bellingcat’s findings seem to disprove Moscow’s claim that the men are civilians, as well as bolster the UK’s claim that they acted on the orders of the Russian government.
  • Russia’s foreign ministry called the findings “a new portion of fake news.”

One of the men accused of poisoning a former Russian spy in England earlier this year has been identified as a high-ranking member of Russia’s intelligence service.

The UK in early September accused two Russian men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, of attempting to assassinate Sergei Skripal with a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury in March. UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the names were most likely aliases.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has long denied having any knowledge of the attack, initially claimed that the two men’s names “mean nothing to us,” then said that they were civilians.

Petrov and Boshirov also appeared on Russian TV to say they were visiting Salisbury as tourists.

But according to a Wednesday article by the investigative-journalism site Bellingcat, Boshirov is actually Col. Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated officer with the GRU, Russia’s intelligence service.

Chepiga, 39, had been assigned the alter ego of Boshirov by 2010, Bellingcat said. This was the name used in his passport when he travelled to the UK earlier this year.

Skripal poisoning suspects cctvLondon Metropolitan PoliceSurveillance footage of Alexander Petrov and Boshirov in Salisbury, England, on the day Skripal collapsed.

Bellingcat said it confirmed Chepiga’s identity after speaking to multiple sources familiar with Chepiga or the investigation.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant also cited Chepiga’s acquaintances in his home village, Berezovka, saying of Bellingcat’s findings, “That’s him … 100% of it.”

According to Bellingcat, throughout his career, Chepiga had been given multiple rewards for his services, including the title of Hero of the Russian Federation – the highest award in the state, typically given by the president to a handful of people in a secret ceremony, according to the BBC.

The award was confirmed by Chepiga’s military school, the Far Eastern Higher Military Command School.

It suggests Putin was aware of Chepiga’s identity, which would seem to disprove the Russian president’s claim that he didn’t know who Boshirov and Petrov were.

Bellingcat’s findings also cast doubt on Russia’s claims that Boshirov and Petrov were civilians and that the government had no knowledge of the Skripal attack.

The findings are also in line with the British government’s claim, citing security and intelligence agencies’ investigations, that Boshirov and Petrov were officers from Russia’s intelligence services.

May has also said that authorization for the attack “almost certainly” came from senior members of the Russian government.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, called Bellingcat’s findings “a new portion of fake news.”

Zakharova said on Facebook, according to a translation by Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency, “There is no evidence, so they” – the UK – “continue the information campaign, the main task of which is to divert attention from the main question: ‘What happened in Salisbury?'”

The UK has issued international arrest warrants for the two men, London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed in a statement to Business Insider. However, Russia does not extradite its nationals.

Gavin Williamson, the UK’s defence secretary, appeared to confirm Bellingcat’s findings in a tweet on Wednesday night that he appears to have later deleted.

“The true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian Colonel,” he wrote. “I want to thank all the people who are working so tirelessly on this case.”

A spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defence told Business Insider that Williamson’s tweet, which was posted on his constituency’s account, was unrelated to his role as defence secretary. Williamson’s constituency office did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

The British Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office, and Metropolitan Police all declined to comment on Bellingcat’s findings.

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