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The third man: UK charges another Russian for nerve attack on double agent

Dyerwer
Alexei Navalny

British police said on Tuesday a third Russian had been charged in absentia with the 2018 Novichok murder attempt on former double agent Sergei Skripal, saying they could also now confirm the three suspects were military intelligence operatives.

The attack on Skripal, who sold Russian secrets to Britain, caused one of the biggest rows between Russia and the West since the Cold War, leading to the tit-for-tat expulsion of dozens of diplomats after Britain pointed the finger of blame at Moscow.

Russia has rejected any involvement, casting the accusations as anti-Russian propaganda.

Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious, slumped on a public bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March 2018, and they, along with a police officer who went to his house, were left critically ill in hospital from exposure to the military-grade nerve agent.

A woman later also died from Novichok poisoning after her partner found a counterfeit perfume bottle which police believe had been used to smuggle the poison into the country.

In September 2018, British prosecutors charged two Russians, then identified by the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with conspiracy to murder Skripal and the attempted murder of Yulia and the officer, Nick Bailey.

Dean Haydon, the UK’s Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing, said prosecutors had now authorised them to charge a third man, Sergey Fedotov, who was aged about 50, with the same offences.

Haydon also said Petrov and Boshirov were really named Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga, and that Fedotov’s true identity was Denis Sergeev.

SKRIPAL PLOT

They were a three-man GRU team which had carried out operations on behalf of the Russian state in other countries, and there had been discussions with Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, he said, the first time that the police had categorically identified them as Russian spies.

“We can’t go into the detail of how, but we have the evidence that links them to the GRU,” Haydon told reporters, describing them as highly-trained. “All three of them are dangerous individuals.”

As with the other two Russians, British police had obtained an arrest warrant for Fedotov and they were applying for Interpol notices against him, he said.

All three men were now believed to be in Russia, with whom Britain has no extradition treaty and the Russian authorities had so far offered no cooperation, Haydon added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the issue would be raised with the Russian ambassador to London.

The police announcement comes on the same day that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia was responsible for the 2006 killing of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned at a London hotel with Polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope.

British police say Petrov and Boshirov carried out the Skripal attack, while Fedotov met them several times over the weekend of March 2-4 when the poisoning occurred.

After they were accused by Britain, Boshirov and Petrov appeared on Russian TV to say they were tourists who had travelled to Salisbury to do some sightseeing.

“There’s the famous Salisbury Cathedral. It’s famous not only in Europe, but in the whole world. It’s famous for its 123 metre-spire,” Boshirov said.

FACTBOX

– ‘Sergei Fedotov’ flies to London’s Heathrow airport from Moscow on Friday, March 2, 2018, four hours before two other Russians, travelling under the names Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, arrive at London’s Gatwick airport from the Russian capital.

– Petrov and Boshirov spend two nights in an east London hotel, where traces of the Novichok nerve agent were found. They make day trips to Salisbury, the first for reconnaissance and the second to attempt to kill Skripal.

– British police say Fedotov, Petrov and Boshirov are members of a Russian military intelligence (GRU) unit tasked with special operations abroad such as the attempted murder of Skripal.

– Fedotov stayed at a separate London hotel and remained in London over the weekend. No nerve agent was detected in his hotel. However, he met the other two suspects on several occasions.

– Petrov and Boshirov are caught on security cameras near Skripal’s house in the city of Salisbury. Police believe they sprayed the Novichok nerve agent on the door of the former Russian GRU officer’s house.

– Skripal, who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service, was found unconscious with Yulia on a public bench in Salisbury on March 4.

– Fedotov flew out from Heathrow on March 4, hours before the other two also left Britain.

– In July, local woman Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three, died and her partner Charlie Rowley also fell ill after he found a fake bottle of Nina Ricci perfume which police said had been adapted to administer the nerve agent. Charges have yet to be filed in Sturgess’s death, and police say they are still investigating how the poison reached Rowley.

– In September 2018, British police charge Boshirov and Petrov over the attack on Skripal.

– A week later Boshirov and Petrov appear on Russian TV to say they were tourists who had travelled to Salisbury to do some sightseeing.

“There’s the famous Salisbury Cathedral. It’s famous not only in Europe, but in the whole world. It’s famous for its 123 metre-spire,” Boshirov said.

– In April 2021, the Czech authorities said they were searching for Boshirov and Petrov in connection with an ammunition depot explosion in 2014 which killed two people, an attack which had been aimed at a shipment to a Bulgarian arms dealer.

– On Tuesday, British police say charges have also been brought against Fedotov. They say his real name is Denis Sergeev and that Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga are the true identities of Boshirov and Petrov.

– Police are also investigating a number of other people who might have been involved. Dean Haydon, the UK’s Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing gave no details about who they were looking at, bar saying there were no female suspects.

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