POISON IN THE SYSTEM
smiths » Mon May 14, 2018 2:32 am wrote:Jerky, are you recommending to the (terribly victimised) SLAD that this thread title should be changed to your suggestion , "the REAL SKRIPAL THREAD"?
I just want to see a good educational discussion
smiths » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:03 am wrote:I'd just like to make the observation that many people who question the Skripal narrative also think Putin is a murderous thug,
I for one know enough about Russia in the last 30 years to know that it is a vicious mafia state where enemies of the inner circle are murdered, journalists who investigate are murdered, etc, etc
But that doesn't create some default setting where any issue that comes up involving Russia automatically produces the conclusion of Russian guilt.
The most basic truism of an information war is that 'they' are both lying to us and manipulating us in an attempt to get 'their' narrative accepted.
You hope though, as a skeptical observer with Rigorous Intuition, to see patterns and sniff bullshit and work out the likelihood of any given narrative being credible.
The Skripal narrative was implausible from the beginning, it was riddled with intriguing connections to British intelligence, and it just got worse and worse as an explanation.
Thinking this doesn't make any of us Russian stooges, it doesn't make us Putin lovers, it doesn't mean we are not aware that misinformation could be leading us astray.
The odd thing for me is that a group of people who have questioned the establishment for so long seem so willing to accept stories coming from the British government and establishment media.
In case anyone forgot, the British elite are vicious calculating murderous thugs - they just have impeccable manners. So why believe their version of events?
A Spy Story: Sergei Skripal Was a Little Fish. He Had a Big Enemy.
Family photos of the former Russian spy Sergei V. Skripal with his daughter, Yulia, in the late 1980s and his wife, Lyudmila, in 1972.
By Michael Schwirtz and Ellen Barry
Sept. 9, 2018
MOSCOW — Sergei V. Skripal was a little fish.
This is how British officials now describe Mr. Skripal, a Russian intelligence officer they recruited as a spy in the mid-1990s. When the Russians caught Mr. Skripal, they saw him that way, too, granting him a reduced sentence. So did the Americans: The intelligence chief who orchestrated his release to the West in 2010 had never heard of him when he was included in a spy swap with Moscow.
But Mr. Skripal was significant in the eyes of one man — Vladimir V. Putin, an intelligence officer of the same age and training.
The two men had dedicated their lives to an intelligence war between the Soviet Union and the West. When that war was suspended, both struggled to adapt.
One rose, and one fell. While Mr. Skripal was trying to reinvent himself, Mr. Putin and his allies, former intelligence officers, were gathering together the strands of the old Soviet system. Gaining power, Mr. Putin began settling scores, reserving special hatred for those who had betrayed the intelligence tribe when it was most vulnerable.
“A person who chooses this fate will regret it a thousand times,” President Vladimir V. Putin said of moles.CreditPool photo by Maxim Marmur
Six months ago, Mr. Skripal was found beside his daughter, Yulia, slumped on a bench in an English city, hallucinating and foaming at the mouth. His poisoning led to a Cold War-style confrontation between Russia and the West, with both sides expelling diplomats and wrangling over who tried to kill him and why.
Last Wednesday, British officials offered specifics, accusing Russia of sending two hit men to smear Mr. Skripal’s front door handle with a nerve agent, an accusation vigorously denied by Moscow. British intelligence chiefs claim they have identified the men as members of the same Russian military intelligence unit, the G.R.U., or Main Intelligence Directorate, where Mr. Skripal once worked.
It is unclear if Mr. Putin played a role in the poisoning of Mr. Skripal, who survived and has gone into hiding. But dozens of interviews conducted in Britain, Russia, Spain, Estonia, the United States and the Czech Republic, as well as a review of Russian court documents, show how their lives intersected at key moments.
In 2010, when Mr. Skripal and three other convicted spies were released to the West, Mr. Putin had been watching from the sidelines with mounting fury. Asked to comment on the freed spies, Mr. Putin publicly daydreamed about their death.
A military orchestra festival last month in Red Square in Moscow. The collapse of the Soviet Union unleashed a drive for personal enrichment.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
In the late 1990s, Sergei Skripal returned from Madrid, where he was posted undercover in the office of the Russian military attaché. Russia was in disarray. Coal miners, soldiers and doctors had not been paid in months. Workers took control of a St. Petersburg nuclear power plant, threatening to shut it down unless they received their back pay.
Mr. Skripal was good fun, though, happy in the company of other men. Oleg B. Ivanov, who worked with him in the Moscow regional governor’s office, recalled him as a man struggling to keep up with changes in the country, more “Death of a Salesman” than John le Carré. He lived in a shabby housing block in a field of identical housing blocks, drove a rattletrap Niva and told endless stories about his days as a paratrooper.
One thing didn’t fit: At restaurants, he insisted on paying for everyone. “That was something that set him apart,” Mr. Ivanov said. “I don’t know where this came from.” In their crowd there were many other former Soviet spies, who had devoted the first part of their life to qualifying as intelligence officers. Now it all seemed pointless.
“You have to understand, the Soviet Union collapsed,” Mr. Ivanov said. “All the Soviet ideology that underpinned our government also disappeared into history. There was a slogan at that time: Enrich yourselves.”
That was Mr. Skripal’s story, he said: Always looking for side hustles. “By his psychological type, he was a materialist,” Mr. Ivanov said. “He simply loved money.”
“He simply loved money,” Oleg Ivanov said of Mr. Skripal, his former colleague.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
And that, he said, explained his friend’s betrayal. In 2006, Mr. Ivanov was driving in his car when heard Mr. Skripal’s name on the news. Prosecutors said that, while posted in Spain, Mr. Skripal had entered into a business partnership with a Spanish intelligence agent, who “bumped” him to a recruiter from Britain’s foreign intelligence service. Mr. Skripal had been meeting his handler secretly since 1996, they said, passing on secrets in exchange for $100,000.
It was not a large amount, around $12,500 a year. Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 15 years, five less than the maximum, and the judge reduced it to 13, because Mr. Skripal was cooperative.
Mr. Ivanov found Mr. Skripal’s betrayal, if not especially honorable, at least comprehensible.
“It was a period of building up capital,” he said. “It was affecting everyone in the government, including structures like the G.R.U. He also came under the influence of needing to make money. The time came. The oath he gave to the Soviet Union — it seems to me, at least — you didn’t need to adhere to it anymore.”
Those were years of free-fall. Who could define loyalty?
‘Moscow Is Silent’
Mr. Skripal, bottom left, at a Soviet military academy in 1975.
Vladimir V. Putin, another midcareer intelligence officer, was living through the same loss of status.
In 1990, he was sent home early from his post at K.G.B. headquarters in Dresden. His salary had not been paid in three months and he had nowhere to live — so many spies were returning that the government could not house them. He arrived home with nothing to show for his years abroad but some hard currency and a 20-year-old washing machine, a goodbye gift from a neighbor in East Germany.
The unraveling had felt personal for Mr. Putin, who was unable to protect all his German contacts from exposure. One day Mr. Putin pleaded with the Soviet military command to defend the K.G.B. headquarters, which was surrounded by German protesters eager to seize files. In a panic, they were stuffing them into a furnace.
“Moscow is silent,” an officer told him. He would recall that phrase again and again in the years that followed.
“I had the feeling then that the country was no more,” he said later.
His friend Sergei Roldugin said he had never seen Mr. Putin so emotional as when he spoke about those East German informants whose identities had been revealed. “He said it was equal to treason,” Mr. Roldugin told Mr. Putin’s biographer, Steven Lee Myers. “He was very upset, extremely.”
Scores of intelligence agents turned to the West at that time, as defectors or informants, and Mr. Putin cannot speak of them without a lip curl of disgust. They are “beasts” and “swine.” Treachery, he told one interviewer, is the one sin he is incapable of forgiving. It could also, he said darkly, be bad for your health. “Traitors always meet a bad end,” he once said. “As a rule they either die of heavy drinking or drug abuse.”
When he came to power, Mr. Putin went after traitors the same way he dealt with other ills of the chaotic 1990s, the oligarchs and crime bosses. His first years in office were marked by a barrage of spy convictions, some clearly meant as revenge.
The tone was set around the time of Mr. Putin’s first election as president in 2000 — the day before, in fact. That was when the Federal Security Service, which Mr. Putin had recently commanded, leaked the identity of a British MI6 officer who was a prodigious recruiter of Russian spies. It was a careful, meticulous leak, intended to savage the man’s career, a deliberately personal attack: The spy service also revealed the officer’s wife’s name and the fact that he had two daughters.
That officer, it was later revealed, was the man who had recruited Mr. Skripal.
A Family Collapses
A family photo showing Mr. Skripal with his wife, Lyudmila, and daughter, Yulia, at a school graduation in 2001.
After Mr. Skripal was convicted in 2006, he was “untouchable,” said Mr. Ivanov, his former colleague. The Skripal family, suddenly alone, kept their shame private. Ivan V. Fedoseyev, 76, their next-door neighbor, noticed that Mr. Skripal was gone and assumed he had left his wife, Lyudmila, for another woman. “It was embarrassing to ask about it,” he said.
Lyudmila ruminated bitterly about friends who had testified against her husband, said Viktoria Skripal, Mr. Skripal’s niece. She complained to Viktoria that plenty of their G.R.U. colleagues had decided to live in the West after the Soviet collapse. “Why has nobody called them traitors, she said,” Viktoria recalled.
By then, Mr. Putin’s Russia was in full flower. He had brought Russia’s business tycoons to heel, and his own allies, mostly former intelligence officers from St. Petersburg, took the helm of Russia’s key industries. Mr. Putin’s friends took their place among the world’s superrich, buying up yachts and Mayfair mansions.
But Lyudmila Skripal was reduced to begging for money. She could no longer afford to send the monthly allotment that her husband needed in prison, for food and toiletries, so she asked that his mother’s pension, roughly $500 or $600 a month, be diverted to him, Viktoria Skripal said. In sheaves of legal appeals, she begged a long list of Russian military officials — the defense minister himself, finally — to restore her husband’s pension.
“I am forced to appeal to you for help due to the difficult situation that I, a pensioner, find myself in at the current time,” she wrote. For her efforts, over two years, she was awarded 33,148 rubles and 89 kopeks, which at the time was worth about $1,000.
Viktoria Skripal, Mr. Skripal’s niece, said that his family suffered greatly while he was in prison.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
She had stopped taking care of herself. The family’s apartment was falling apart, the walls warped and the linoleum stained, said Lilia Borisovna, who bought the apartment later. “The apartment was decaying,” she said.
So was Mrs. Skripal’s body. She was experiencing symptoms of endometrial cancer, as it metastasized, untreated, from her womb to other parts of her body. It was clear something serious was wrong, and Viktoria Skripal urged her to seek medical help. But Mrs. Skripal refused to see a doctor, she said, “until Sergei Viktorovich came home.”
Mr. Skripal was trying to get out of prison early and submitted a detailed appeal to a military court. In his trial, he had confessed to passing classified information to a British intelligence officer. But in his appeal, according to court papers, he said he had mistaken the officer for a businessman who “simply made him an offer to come work for his firm abroad after his retirement from diplomatic service.”
The appeals court did not buy it.
While the Skripals waited, their son, Sasha, was slipping into a deep hole. Much of his life had been built around his father’s G.R.U. contacts: His wife, Natalya, was the daughter of another colonel who lived in the same complex. His job had come through the G.R.U. network. After his father’s betrayal became public, it all slipped away from him.
Sasha abruptly quit his job, Mr. Ivanov said. His father-in-law told Moskovsky Komsomolets, a Russian newspaper, that Sasha was drinking heavily and that he recommended his daughter divorce him. Sasha was treated for kidney disease and died in 2017 at the age of 43.
A Trade Is Proposed
The Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B., in Moscow. Mr. Putin once ran the agency.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
Dialing the number of his Russian counterpart from his office in Langley, Va., Leon Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was not feeling optimistic.
Mr. Panetta had once met Mikhail Fradkov, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service. They had dined together in Washington, and as the meal was wrapping up Mr. Panetta asked his companion what he thought was Russia’s biggest intelligence failure. America’s, he volunteered, was the case for invading Iraq.
Mr. Fradkov paused for a long time, then responded simply, “Penkovsky.”
Mr. Panetta was taken aback; the answer spoke volumes about the way the Russian system viewed moles. Oleg Penkovsky was a colonel in the G.R.U. who had spied for the C.I.A. and British intelligence during the 1950s and 1960s, providing information that guided the Kennedy administration during the Cuban missile crisis. He was apprehended by Soviet authorities and, it is believed, shot.
Now it was the summer of 2010, and Mr. Panetta was on the phone with Mr. Fradkov, hoping to set in motion a deal that would free another G.R.U. mole. Days earlier, the F.B.I. had executed Operation Ghost Stories, arresting 10 Russian sleeper agents, who had been operating in the United States for nearly a decade.
“These people are yours,” Mr. Panetta said he told Mr. Fradkov.
“I said, ‘Look, we’re going to prosecute them; it could be very embarrassing for you,’” Mr. Panetta recalled saying in an interview. “You’ve got three or four people who we want, and I propose that we make a trade.”
Normally, Mr. Panetta said, such an offer would have been met with denials and obfuscation. But it was the summer of 2010, and the two Cold War adversaries were enjoying a brief thaw.
Military cadets in Red Square in Moscow last month.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
Mr. Putin had stepped away from the presidency, installing a faithful deputy, Dmitri A. Medvedev. It was a scheme that allowed Mr. Putin, who became prime minister, to hold onto power without violating constitutional term limits, but also a test of cooperation with the West. Mr. Medvedev had built a rapport with Barack Obama during a trip to Washington, meeting for cheeseburgers at a hole-in-the-wall diner called Ray’s Hell Burger.
After the phone call with Mr. Panetta, the Russians agreed to a swap. Mr. Panetta gave Russia four names, including Mr. Skripal’s.
“I think it was our Russia people at the C.I.A. who came up with his name,” Mr. Panetta said. “And he was added to the list.”
On a hot July day, guards at Correctional Colony No. 5 in the Russian Republic of Mordovia came to Mr. Skripal’s cell and told him to gather his things. He was taken to Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, where he met briefly with his family before being loaded onto a small Yak plane belonging to Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations. With him were three other former prisoners. All were silent for the three-hour flight to Vienna.
The mood was much different aboard the United States government-chartered Vision Airlines 737 sent to retrieve the four men. After takeoff federal agents popped champagne bottles and poured whiskey to toast the men’s freedom, according to someone present on the flight. One former K.G.B. major gave a boisterous speech. They were free.
‘Have to Hide Their Whole Lives’
Mr. Putin with Dmitri A. Medvedev last year. He was displeased by Russia’s thaw with the United States during Mr. Medvedev’s presidency.CreditYekaterina Shutnika/Sputnik
One man, however, was stewing.
“A person gives over his whole life for his homeland and then some bastard comes along and betrays such people,” Mr. Putin, practically snarling, said when asked to comment about the swap on live television. “How will he be able to look into the eyes of his children, the pig. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on them. Believe me.”
Even if they didn’t die, he added, they would suffer. “They will have to hide their whole lives,” Mr. Putin said. “With no ability to speak with other people, with their loved ones.” Then he stiffened his back, squared his shoulders and spoke straight to the camera.
“You know,” he concluded, “a person who chooses this fate will regret it a thousand times.”
Did he know the names of the traitors who had betrayed their comrades, a journalist had asked him shortly after the swap. “Of course,” Mr. Putin said. Would he punish them? Wrong question, Mr. Putin replied mysteriously. “This can’t be decided at a press conference,” he said. “They live by their own rules, and these rules are well known by everyone in the intelligence services.”
Mr. Putin was becoming impatient with Mr. Medvedev’s cooperation with Mr. Obama.
In 2011, he erupted over the French-led bombing campaign in Libya, blaming Mr. Medvedev for yielding to American pressure and failing to use Russia’s veto power at the United Nations Security Council to stop it. His livid criticism of that campaign, which he likened to a “medieval call to a crusade,” presaged what happened next: He took back power in 2012, and set about undoing every element of Mr. Medvedev’s little thaw.
But Mr. Skripal and the other traitors, delivered into the hands of Western intelligence agencies, had already scattered.
Lonely in Exile
Surveillance footage of Mr. Skripal in a convenience store the month before he was poisoned in Salisbury, England.Creditvia Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
It was hard to miss Mr. Skripal in Salisbury. Matthew Dean, the head of Salisbury’s City Council, recalled spotting him one day in the Railway Social Club, a modest establishment with electronic poker machines and framed prints of racehorses. Mr. Dean is a pub owner, familiar with Salisbury’s categories of drinkers. This one did not belong.
“It was a Sunday afternoon, and he was drinking neat vodka,” Mr. Dean recalled. “He was extremely loud, and he was wearing a white track suit. I remember saying, ‘Good God, who is this person?’ And they told me he was their only Russian customer.”
Mr. Skripal tiptoed around the question of his past, at least at the beginning. In an English-as-a-second-language class at Wiltshire College, he introduced himself as the head of a construction company, recently arrived from Spain. Ivan Bombarov, a Bulgarian cabdriver who had friends in the same class, said they all smirked about his cover story.
“We in Bulgaria, we see a lot of mafia guys,” he said. “We was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’”
Mr. Skripal’s solitude deepened after Lydumila died of cancer in 2012, two years and three months after the swap. In 2017, Sasha died, collapsing on a weekend trip to St. Petersburg. His last family member, Yulia, was back in Moscow with her boyfriend.
Last year, he struck up a conversation with a Russian émigré couple at a grocery store in London, and startled them by entreating them — perfect strangers — to come visit him in Salisbury. As he described the deaths of his wife and son, his eyes filled with tears, said the businessman, Valery Morozov.
“He missed Russia,” said Ross Cassidy, a burly former submariner who became one of his closest friends. Lisa Carey, another neighbor, observed the Russian on his daily rounds, walking to the Bargain Stop in his tracksuit to buy scratch tickets.
“He used to boast about being a spy, and we would all laugh at him,” she said. “We thought he was mental.”
He did have secrets, though. Mr. Skripal traveled regularly on classified assignments organized by MI6, offering briefings on the G.R.U. to European and American intelligence services. Such assignments may be devised as a way to keep a former spy busy, said Nigel West, a British intelligence historian. It is not unusual, he said, for defectors to feel bored and underappreciated, something he called “post-usefulness syndrome.”
“Case officers are very aware of it,” Mr. West said. “When the time comes, and they say ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you,’ you may well say, ‘I’ve got something very interesting to do.’ That’s what tends to happen. Their status has been slightly exaggerated and enhanced, and they start swallowing their own bathwater.”
Contacts with fellow intelligence officers took him back to the old days. He made repeated visits to consult with the CNI, the spy service in Spain. He traveled to Estonia and the Czech Republic, among other places.
“Basically they were meetings of people from the same field who used to sit on opposite sides,” said a European intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to characterize Mr. Skripal’s 2012 visit to Prague. “They had lunch together. It lasted for hours. It was great fun.”
The British government, which helped arrange Mr. Skripal’s assignments, has said nothing about them, and British espionage experts shrug them off as unremarkable lectures. But it remains unclear what information Mr. Skripal was passing on. And Russian officials may have been more judgmental than their British colleagues suspected, said Aleksei A. Venediktov, editor in chief of the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, which has reported extensively on the case.
“When you’re over there, you do not work against us, that’s the rule,” Mr. Venediktov said. “It’s not written anywhere, but it’s known. You were pardoned for your past and in the future, live on your pension, grow flowers, calm and quiet. These are the conditions. You do not use your military skills against Russia, against the Soviet Union. What did Skripal do? It’s confirmed, he violated that rule.”
Two Trips From Moscow
Yulia Skripal had something important to do in England.
Yulia Skripal in May, after recovering from the poisoning.CreditDylan Martinez/Reuters
She had sold her father’s old apartment, together with the old furniture and the double-headed eagle, the symbol of Russia, that he hung on the wall. She bought herself a small place in western Moscow. But recently she had cleared out to make way for workers to start renovations.
The key change was a tiny room that Yulia wanted redecorated, so it could be used as a nursery, according to Diana Petik, whom Ms. Skripal hired to oversee the renovations. Yulia, she said, was planning to marry her long-term boyfriend and become a mother.
But there was one thing she felt she had to do first. Mr. Skripal could not safely travel to Russia for the wedding, so she wanted to at least have his blessing. This was her intention, Ms. Petik said, when she buckled herself into a seat on an Aeroflot flight bound for London on March 3.
A day earlier, according to British authorities, two Russian intelligence officers arrived in London aboard a different Aeroflot flight. They were inconspicuous, dressed like Russian provincials in parkas and tennis shoes.
In one of their bags was a specially made bottle, disguised as a vial of Nina Ricci’s Premier Jour perfume, loaded with a military grade nerve agent.
A bottle disguised as a vial of Nina Ricci’s Premier Jour perfume, loaded with a military grade nerve agent.
CreditLondon Metropolitan Police
As Yulia Skripal went through customs at Heathrow Airport and waited for her luggage, the two men, according to British investigators, were already in Salisbury, carrying out surveillance ahead of the attack.
The next afternoon, shortly after 4 p.m., a woman named Freya Church was leaving her job, at a gym called Snap Fitness, when she came across two figures slumped on a bench in the picturesque center of Salisbury. The woman was leaning against the man. The man was gazing up at the sky, as if he saw something there, making strange, jerky movements with his hands, she told the BBC.
By that time the two men were boarding a train at Salisbury station, the first leg of their escape back to Moscow.
News of the crime would begin to ripple outward, through the intelligence services of a dozen countries, through the United Nations Security Council and the global body tasked with banning the use of chemical weapons. For the agencies that oversee the army of spies that remained behind after the Cold War, it would throw into question every understood rule of engagement.
But for now, it was a finished job. A middle-aged G.R.U. officer facing an uncertain future had betrayed his tribe. In accordance with rules well known by everyone in Russia’s intelligence services, two assassins came to England and took care of a little fish.
VISUAL INVESTIGATIONS By Malachy Browne and Drew Jordan 1:49
How Surveillance Cameras Tracked Two Russian Hit Men
British investigators used security footage and flight records to track two Russian men who now stand accused of attempted murder in the March attack featuring the nerve agent Novichok.Published OnSept. 5, 2018CreditCreditImage by British Metropolitan Police
Michael Schwirtz reported from Moscow, and Ellen Barry from Salisbury, England. Matthew Luxmoore contributed reporting from Yaroslavl, Russia, and Anna Schaverien from London
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/09/worl ... oning.html
A Spy Story: Sergei Skripal Was a Little Fish. He Had a Big Enemy.
then maybe you should do that and stop with the whiny diversions
Pussy Riot activist Pyotr Verzilov 'in hospital'
Margarita Simonyan Kremlin propagandist and editor in chief of RT interviews the two men suspected of being involved in the Skripal attack.
What a sham of an interview as they admit they were in Salisbury and that’s them on the videos.. Putin again sending an FU to the West
This is the full clip for Russian speakers. It’s absolutely ridiculous and insulting to anyone’s intelligence
They admit they were in Salisbury because it was recommended to them. Of course they carried a woman’s perfume bottle because who doesn’t and yes they were by Skripal’s house. So disgusting
For those of us who are rusty on our Russian, here's the Guardian story about it. My take. "We're just two guys who love spires and might carry poison when we're tourists."
https://twitter.com/olgaNYC1211/status/ ... 8163240960
Putin says he found the 2 men the UK accused of trying to assassinate an ex-spy with nerve agent, and hopes they'll 'turn up'
Photographs showing Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, two men accused of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal.
London Metropolitan Police
The UK accused two men of attempting to assassinate a former Russian agent in England with military-grade nerve agent.
Vladimir Putin said he knows who and where they are, but that there was "nothing criminal" about their actions.
He added that he hoped the two men would "turn up themselves and tell everything."
Britain also accused the two men of being officers from Russia's intelligence service. Putin said they were civilians.
Russian state TV reportedly said that one of the two suspects might comment on the case next week.
The attack on Sergei Skripal, the former Russian spy, also poisoned another British man and killed a British woman.
Vladimir Putin said that his government has located the two Russian men the UK accused of poisoning a former Russian spy in England, and that he hoped they would "turn up themselves and tell everything."
British authorities last week charged two Russian men, identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with attempted murder over the botched poisoning earlier this year, which used the military-grade nerve agent novichok.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Petrov and Boshirov are officers from Russia's intelligence service, also known as the GRU, whose attack was "almost certainly" authorized by the higher echelons of the Russian government.
Russia Vladimir Putin navy day military generals salute
Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg in late July. He said there was "nothing criminal" about the actions of two men accused of an assassination attempt with nerve agent in England earlier this year.
Sputnik/Mikhail Klementyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
Putin said on Wednesday morning there was "nothing criminal" about Petrov and Boshirov. He appeared to be implying that they were not the people who carried out the poisoning.
He added that the two men were civilians, according the state-run Ria Novosti news agency and Russian Embassy in London. Earlier this month the Kremlin said the suspects' names and photographs "mean nothing to us."
The Russian president told a conference in Vladivostok, as cited by the BBC:
"We know who they are, we have found them.
"I hope they will turn up themselves and tell everything. This would be best for everyone.
"There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We'll see in the near future."
Hours after Putin's remarks, Russian state TV reportedly claimed that Petrov, one of the suspects, could speak out about the case next week.
Petrov told Rossiya-24, as cited by Sky News: "No comment for the moment. Maybe later. Next week, I think."
Watch Putin's remark on the Skripal case around the 0:49 mark in the video below:
The attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England, also claimed two other victims: Dawn Sturgess, who died from the poisoning, and Charlie Rowley, who recovered.
Rowley in July unwittingly picked up a fake perfume bottle, which the perpetrators filled with nerve agent intended to poison Skripal and made to look like it was from a designer brand.
Thinking it was expensive perfume, Rowley then gave it to his girlfriend, Sturgess, who applied the poison to her wrists and died. Rowley also fell ill but survived because of his lesser exposure.
Read more: Police release photos of the fake perfume bottle of nerve agent they say Russian intelligence used in a brazen assassination attempt
skripal poisoning perfume bottle 4x3
A composite image showing the fake perfume box and bottle that contained the nerve agent intended to poison former spy Sergei Skripal.
London Metropolitan Police; Business Insider
Britain believes that Petrov and Boshirov — which may not be the two men's real names — are currently in Russia.
The UK's Crown Prosecution Service said it is not applying to Russia for the two men's extradition, because Russia does not extradite its own nationals, according to the BBC.
Britain's diplomatic relationship with Russia suffered after London accused Moscow of being behind the Skripals' poisoning this March. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied knowing about the attack.
https://www.businessinsider.com/putin-n ... ing-2018-9
Spy poison case: Suspects say they were in UK as tourists
By NATALIYA VASILYEVA, ASSOCIATED PRESS MOSCOW — Sep 13, 2018, 8:09 AM ET
FILE In this file grab taken from CCTV and issued by the Metropolitan Police in London on Wednesday Sept. 5, 2018, Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov walk on Fisherton Road, Salisbury, England on March 4, 2018. President Vladimir Putin said on WednThe Associated Press
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The two Russian men charged in Britain with poisoning a former Russian spy with a deadly nerve agent appeared on Kremlin-funded television on Thursday, denying their involvement in the attack and saying that their appearance in the English city of Salisbury was merely an "incredible, fatal coincidence."
Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov made their first public appearance in an interview with the RT channel, saying that they had visited Salisbury as tourists to see its famous cathedral.
"Our friends have been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," Petrov said, while Boshirov added that they specifically wanted to see the cathedral's famous spire and clock.
Britain last week charged Boshirov and Petrov in absentia, alleging they were agents of Russia's military intelligence agency known as the GRU who were dispatched to Salisbury, about 2 hours' drive southwest of London, to poison former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the nerve agent Novichok.
British police have released CCTV footage and photographs showing the two men walking in Skripal's neighborhood on March 4, the day of the attack. They were also pictured visiting the city a day earlier. Britain said the attack was almost certainly approved "at a senior level of the Russian state," an allegation that Moscow has vehemently denied.
Both men on Thursday denied that they are GRU agents or that they were in possession of the Soviet-made Novichok nerve agent.
"The whole situation is an incredible, fatal coincidence, and that's that," Petrov said. "What is our fault?"
They claimed they did not know who Skripal was or where he lived.
Both men looked composed during the interview, and confidently recited details about Salisbury's tourist attractions, including the height of the cathedral's spire.
The two men, who appeared to be around 40, said they worked in the nutrient supplements business. They denied that they carried a bottle of women's perfume where British authorities found traces of Novichok.
"The customs are checking everything," Boshirov said. "They would have questions as to why men have women's perfume in their luggage. We didn't have it."
The British government on Thursday issued a statement after the interview was released, reiterating their claim that Russian authorities were lying about the case.
"The government is clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service — the GRU — who used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country," the statement said. "We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March. Today — just as we have seen throughout — they have responded with obfuscation and lies."
Replying to the interviewer's question why the pair went to Salisbury for two days in a row, Boshirov said that when they first got to the town it was snowy and they got wet "up to the knee" so they decided to take the train back the following day.
When asked to reveal personal details about themselves or explain why they were sharing a hotel room or taking trips together, Boshirov said: "Let's not pry into our private lives."
Boshirov did not react to the interviewer's request to show the pictures they took on that trip, only saying that he found Salisbury Cathedral "very beautiful."
Petrov and Boshirov spoke at length at how depressed and scared they have been after they found themselves in the spotlight, saying that the publicity has made their lives "a nightmare."
"If the real perpetrations are found, I hope at least they (the British) will apologize to us," Petrov said.
The men's surprise public appearance Thursday came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian authorities know the identities of the two men, but insisted that they are civilians and there is "nothing criminal" about them. He called on them to contact the media.
Petrov said he heard Putin's statement on the radio and decided to contact RT's editor-in-chief.
Jill Lawless contributed to this report from London.
Sergei Skripal and the Russian disinformation game
By Joel Gunter & Olga Robinson
9 September 2018
CCTV of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan BoshirovImage copyrightMET POLICE
Police released CCTV showing the two men at Gatwick Airport
When the UK authorities announced on Wednesday that they suspected two alleged Russian agents in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, they released CCTV images of the suspects arriving at Gatwick airport.
Two of the images, framed side by side, began to spread on social media, driven by pro-Russia conspiracy theorists and suspected troll accounts. They showed the alleged agents - Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov - passing through a non-return gate at the airport.
The images had identical timestamps. How could two men be in exactly the same place at the same time, a flood of tweets asked.
Speaking on state TV, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed that either "the date and the exact time were superimposed on the image" or that Russian intelligence officers had "mastered the skill of walking simultaneously".
Her remarks were echoed by pro-Kremlin accounts on Twitter and on the messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Russia. Users suggested the CCTV images had been manipulated. They mocked the British authorities and alleged it was an MI6 operation.
Soon it would not necessarily matter that the background of the CCTV images were not identical; that the camera was at a different angle; that Google Maps shows that the non-return gates at Gatwick are a series of near-identical corridors that the two men could easily have passed down, adjacent to one another, at the same time.
What would matter would be that some people following the story would begin to question what was real and what wasn't. Some might even begin to question the very idea that there was a real, reliable version of events at all.
A still from Google maps, showing the exit gates at Gatwick airport
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Russia denies any involvement in the Skripal case, and its embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment from the BBC, but analysts say the Russian state is now the chief exponent of a new kind of information warfare.
A loosely-defined network of Russian state actors, state-controlled media, and armies of social media bots and trolls is said to work in unison to spread and amplify multiple narratives and conspiracies around cases like the Skripal poisoning. The goal is no longer to deny or disprove an official version of events, it is to flood the zone with so many competing versions that nothing seems to make sense.
"What is really striking is that you no longer see the Russian machine pushing a single message, it pushes dozens of messages," said Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who studies Russian disinformation. "The idea is to confuse people."
Other theories circulating on Wednesday included a claim that the suspects were British actors, stars of a (non-existent) KGB spy series broadcast on British television in the 2000s. Another suggested the attempted assassination in Salisbury, and the deaths of other Russian nationals in Britain, were part of an MI6 plot. "Why do all these horrible events only happen in Britain?" asked Andrei Klimov, a Russian member of parliament, on state TV.
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Salisbury: Russian nationals named as suspects
On the trail of Novichok suspects
What happened to Sergei and Yulia Skripal?
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"The more different theories you put out, the more different Google results you're going to get," said Mr Nimmo. "So instead of seeing two or three different versions of the story you're seeing 20 or 30. And for someone who is not following the story regularly that becomes more and more confusing until they give up. And at that point, the Russian disinformation has had its effect."
Early evidence of the tactic can be traced back to the 2000s but it first drew serious international attention in 2014 when Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing 298 people. The evidence pointed to a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile fired from rebel-held territory in east Ukraine.
Russia had already been accused of deploying crude disinformation techniques around its actions in east Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea, but its response to being linked to the downing of MH-17 was on a different scale - the "tipping point where Russian information warfare kicked into high gear", Mr Nimmo said.
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Media captionSkripal poisoning: On the trail of Novichok suspects
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In the days and months after the aircraft was shot down, Russian state media and pro-Kremlin social accounts pushed out a raft of different and wildly contradictory theories: that a Ukrainian Su-25 combat aircraft had been picked up by radar near MH-17; that video evidence showed a missile being fired from government, not separatist, territory; that Ukrainian fighters had mistaken MH-17 for Vladimir Putin's plane in an assassination attempt; that the CIA was behind it.
"MH-17 is really the classic example," said Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher on computational propaganda at the University of Oxford.
"You saw a whole series of different conspiracies and competing narratives emerge, attached to various hashtags and social media campaigns. The goal was to confuse people, to polarise them, to push them further and further away from reality."
The technique expanded and evolved in the years after the MH-17 attack, with Russia linked to disinformation campaigns around its actions in Syria, the 2016 US election, the murder of Boris Nemtsov, and a UK inquiry into the murder of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko in London.
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Media captionSalisbury Novichok suspects: What does Russia's media think?
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A key component in recent iterations of the tactic has been the use of humour and ridicule. When a UK inquiry found in 2016 that Russian president Vladimir Putin "probably approved" the murder of Litvinenko, a hashtag - #putinprobablyapproved - spread through Twitter, with tweets suggesting Mr Putin had "probably approved" the assassination of JFK, the invasion of Iraq, climate change and more.
In the hours after the UK named the suspects in the Skripal case, a flood of near-identical tweets used pictures of comedians, historical figures and Hollywood spies - from Joseph Stalin to Jason Bourne - in place of the suspects, mocking the UK's announcement.
The official account of the Russian embassy in London even joined in, posting an image of the two Skripal suspects allegedly carrying the Novichok toxin alongside a picture of British police in biohazard suits, asking users to "spot the difference". On Russian state news bulletins, anchors reported the news with a mixture of disbelief and sarcasm.
"The strategy is optimised for the internet, it's meant to go viral," said Mr Nimmo. "That's why mockery and sarcasm and attempts at funny memes are so much a part of this ... It is disinformation for the information age."Russian Embassy, UK
Follow Follow @RussianEmbassy
Men "working with the most deadly military grade toxin of high purity”. How many differences can you spot?
In 2015, the European Union was sufficiently alarmed by Russian disinformation that it created a task force - the East Stratcom team - directed solely at counteracting the perceived threat. The small team attempts to debunk fake stories in real time, but it is reportedly vastly outmatched by the amount of material coming its way.
Peter Wilson, the UK ambassador to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said earlier this year the OPCW had counted more than 30 different Russian theories swirling around the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
The effectiveness and reach of this type of disinformation operation in the West is debatable. A YouGov poll conducted earlier this year found that 75% of Britons believed that the Russian state was behind the Skripal poisoning, while just 5% said they thought Russia was innocent. But the sheer volume of Russian disinformation being exported abroad remained a major cause for concern, said one EU official who works on the issue but was not authorised to speak about it publicly.
"Some people like to think this tactic was used around Brexit and it went away, or it was used around Skripal and went away, but it's happening 24/7," he said. "Others also use disinformation, of course ... But this aggression, this exporting of information narratives abroad, this is really something where Russia is number one in the world."
Salisbury attack: Russian spies 'arrested on way to Swiss lab that tested novichok samples'
The spies, who are not the same men suspected of attacking Sergei Skripal, were sent back to Russia in the spring
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/worl ... 37116.html
Dutch say they arrested 2 Russians planning to hack Swiss chemical warfare lab
Alleged spies caught as institute was analyzing data on Novichok poison used in UK attack, as well as on chemical attacks in Syria
By JAN HENNOP
Today, 5:33 pm
A sign warning of CCTV-controlled area is seen next to the Spiez Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute for NBC-Protection (nuclear, biological, chemical), on September 14, 2018 in Spiez, 40km from the capital Bern (AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI)
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AFP) — Dutch intelligence services snatched two alleged Russian spies earlier this year on suspicion of planning to hack a sensitive Swiss laboratory used by the world’s chemical warfare watchdog, reports and officials said Friday.
The two agents, believed to be working for Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, targeted the Spiez laboratory near Bern, Dutch-based NRC newspaper and Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger said.
At the time, Spiez was analyzing data related to poison gas attacks in Syria, as well as the March 4 attack using the nerve agent Novichok on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, they reported.
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The laboratory does analytical work for the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The two were detained “early this year” by Dutch military intelligence (MIVD) working together with several other countries, the newspapers reported.
“The duo, according to sources within the investigation, carried equipment which they wanted to use to break into the computer network” of the Spiez laboratory.
Exact details of the alleged agents’ arrest are unknown.
A Super Puma helicopter of the Swiss Air Force flight above the Spiez Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute for NBC-Protection (nuclear, biological, chemical) on September 14, 2018 in Spiez, 40km from Swiss capital Bern.
(AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI)
But on March 26, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that his cabinet had decided to expel “two Russian intelligence workers from the Russian embassy” as a result of the Skripal attack, without giving further details.
Swiss intelligence officials Friday confirmed they were aware of the incident.
“The case of the Russian spies discovered in The Hague and then expelled from The Hague is known to Swiss authorities,” Isabelle Graber, spokeswoman for the Swiss intelligence services (SRC), told AFP.
The Swiss spy agency “actively participated in this operation in collaboration with its Dutch and British partners in prevention of illegal actions against critical Swiss infrastructure,” she said.
Dutch intelligence services declined to comment when contacted by AFP, saying “we don’t give information about operations.”
Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service information head Sergei Ivanov also told the RIA Novosti state news agency that “the SVR does not comment on this information.”
However, in April Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the OPCW of “manipulating” the results of the Skripal probe by omitting findings from the Spiez laboratory.
According to the results from Spiez, the samples sent by the OPCW contained a nerve agent called “BZ” which was manufactured by the West, Lavrov said, citing “confidential information.”
Two men who were accused by Britain of being GRU agents involved in the murder attempt on Skripal insisted in an interview that they were merely tourists who had come to visit Salisbury cathedral.
But the two men in the interview, named by British security services as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, “were not the two agents intercepted” by the Netherlands, the papers said.
https://www.timesofisrael.com/dutch-say ... rfare-lab/
Two Russian spies expelled from the Netherlands 'over Novichok lab hack plot'
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/0 ... hack-plot/
Russian spies arrested ‘on way to break in to Swiss lab testing novichok’
Bruno Waterfield, Brussels
September 14 2018, 12:00pm,
Spiez was investigating poison gas attacks by the Assad regime in Syria and the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury
Two Russian spies were arrested in March on their way to break in to the Swiss chemical weapons laboratory that was analysing the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack, it has been revealed.
The Russian GRU military intelligence agents were intercepted in the Netherlands while on their way to Switzerland, where investigators believe they were targeting the Spiez laboratory. They were expelled from the country.
The arrests followed a joint operation by the British and Dutch secret services working with the Swiss intelligence, the Nachrichtendienst des Bundes (NDB).
They were equipped with hacking equipment which would have been able to break into the computer network of the laboratory, the country’s institute working on protection against nuclear, biological and chemical threats.
It is the designated…
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https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russ ... -lf6kfwrsl
Russian spies detained in The Hague were planning cyber break-in at Swiss lab:
NRC CrimeSociety September 14, 2018 European intelligence services, including the Dutch military intelligence and security service MIVD, detained two Russian spies in The Hague earlier this year on suspicion of planning a computer break-in at a Swiss lab, the NRC and the Swiss paper Tages- Anzeiger revealed on Thursday night. The two men were preparing to travel to the Spiez lab in Switzerland, the papers say. At the time the lab was analysing data related to the poison gas attacks by the Syrian regime as well as the nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March. Sources around the investigation told the papers the two, who are thought to work for the Russian intelligence srvice GROe, had equipment in their possession which would allow them to break into the computer system of the laboratory. The duo are not the men who go by the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and who have been identified by the British government as Skripal’s attackers and GROe members. The incident in The Hague was not made public at the time. However, prime minister Mark Rutte said on March 26 in a reaction to the Salisbury attack, that the government had decided to expell ‘two Russian intelligence agents working at the Russian embassy’. The MIVD refused to comment on suggestions these could be the same men as the alleged spies, the NRC said. Meanwhile the two would-be hackers have been the subject of a criminal investigation since March in Switzerland, the Bern prosecution office confirmed to the NRC. The Spiez laboratory, which is the designated lab for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) seated in The Hague, said it had fended off an earlier attempt at stealing data by hackers. Despite this, a report on the Skripal case found its way into the hands of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov who said he had got it from a ‘confidential source’, the paper writes. The OPWC maintains it does not share lab reports from designated labs with member states. ‘Famous cathedral’ The two men held responsible for the Skripal poison attack were revealed by Leningrad online paper Fontanka to have travelled extensively between September 2 and March 5 2018, visiting Moscow, Amsterdam, Geneva, Milan and Paris. In an interview with Russian TV the men said they had nothing to do with the attack. Describing themselves as fitness product salesmen they claimed they were only in Salisbury to visit its cathedral ‘famous not just in Europe but in the whole world’. The MIVD and general intelligence and security service AIVD have repeatedly warned that the Netherlands is being targeted by the Russian intelligence service. Home affairs minister Kasja Ollongren told MPs last year that intelligence agents are involved in covert operations to collect data.
Read more at DutchNews.nl:
https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2018/09/r ... s-lab-nrc/
How badly did Russia’s interview with the Skripal poisoning suspects backfire?
A video frame taken from Sept. 12 footage by the Kremlin-backed RT news network shows the two Russian nationals who identified themselves as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov speaking with RT editor Margarita Simonyan in Moscow. The two men, accused by London of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal, told Russian media they visited the British city of Salisbury as tourists and denied having anything to do with the murder attempt. (AFP/RT via Ruptly)
By Precious N. Chatterje-Doody and
September 15 at 6:00 AM
RT, Russia’s state-backed international broadcaster, aired an exclusive interview with the two Russian men accused of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the English town of Salisbury. The two suspects denied all involvement, claiming to be tourists interested in Salisbury Cathedral.
This interview could have been simply one more episode in the fierce narrative battle between British and Russian authorities. However, this does not appear to have been the case, according to the latest research from the “Reframing Russia” project, which looks at the state broadcaster’s efforts to reshape Russia’s external image. The data suggest that — for RT, at least — this broadcast backfired.
RT has tried to discredit the British case
In its earliest reporting on the Salisbury poisoning, RT sought to draw into question key elements of the official British case. RT headlines focused not on the case itself, but on how the U.K. media was reporting it. One headline, for instance, read “Blame precedes evidence.”
RT’s reporting was factually accurate, based around statements from the police or headlines generated in mainstream media outlets. However, the network told the story from the Russian point of view, with Russia merely responding to other states’ actions.
RT relied heavily on a particular selection of guests who highlighted inconsistencies in official U.K. accounts. Russia’s ambassador to Britain gave his thoughts in op-eds and interviews. “Putin’s former spin doctor” Alexander Nekrassov was another repeat commentator.
Likewise, former British intelligence officials Charles Shoebridge and Annie Machon contributed to several talk shows. Machon and Nekrassov also provided commentary for the BBC, but other regularly featured experts gave conspiratorial contributions unlikely to be hosted on other networks.
The tone of RT’s programming tended to vary dramatically, depending on the program and the journalist hosting it. One consistent theme throughout the Skripal coverage was the network’s critiques of Western political institutions and Western media. RT coverage also employed dismissive irony, humor and informality — and used social media responses to show there was wider skepticism about British claims.
Did this strategy work? Yes — but only initially.
Our social media research suggests that, initially, English-speaking RT audiences accepted RT’s skepticism about official British accounts of the poisoning. RT’s YouTube “Skripal” playlist of 60 videos has more than 1.6 million combined views and more than 32,000 comments. These videos were upvoted a total of 32,000 times, compared with only 4,200 downvotes, which suggests that viewers largely agree with their content.
To understand how audiences were reacting to RT’s reporting, we analyzed the top 100 most-liked comments on two specific videos discussing the Skripal case. On one video, 73 percent of the comments suggested that there was a conspiracy at work, with claims such as “it is more likely the CIA poisoned them to place blame on Russia.” Some 44 percent of comments were critical of the U.K. and its allies, and 27 percent noted inconsistencies in British claims. Only 4 of the comments were critical of Russia, Putin or RT’s claims.
In response to another video, 35 percent of commentators suggested conspiracy theories, 95 percent of the comments were critical of the U.K., and 26 percent suggested inconsistencies in the British narrative. Only one of the top 100 comments was critical of Russia — but it also stated that the U.K. government was similarly untrustworthy.
And then the interview landed
The previous data show that RT viewers were generally skeptical of the official U.K. account of the Skripal poisoning. But this week’s 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 the suspects’ stories implausible. Fully 74 percent were critical of the claims presented by the suspects.
Some viewers even noted that the interview itself had changed their opinion of the whole affair: “Not a very convincing interview at all … I wasn’t doubting the Russian government until I saw this interview,” was one comment. Others saw it as reason to doubt the RT network, calling it “fake news.” In comparison, only 16 percent of the comments were critical of the U.K., while 4 percent suggested the interview was an example of Russian trolling.
In the past, RT generally relied on humor to neutralize negative reactions. This time, the editor in chief who interviewed the two suspects struggled to deflect the criticism, and dramatically hung up during a telephone interview with the BBC.
Perhaps the response of English-speaking audiences is no real concern, if the main purpose of the interview was designed more for domestic audiences. But if that was the intent, the interview also appears to have failed. Russia’s state-controlled domestic TV ignored the video’s critical reception, but newspapers have not been so forgiving. And the YouTube comments on RT’s Russian version of the interview have been just as negative as those in English. One viewer said: “Until today I perceived this Skripal story as Britain’s provocation. But once I saw these two idiots, my view has been shaken.”
To date, RT has pitched itself as a network at ease with the new digital world, prepared to tell uncomfortable truths in a media environment dominated by the institutions and power structures of the “West.”Criticism of the network, RT suggests, is fueled by Russophobes frightened at its challenge to those in power.
The poor reception to the Skripal suspects’ interview shows the fragility of RT’s position — and its ability to act as a soft power instrument of the Russian state — along with its failure to judge online audiences. As one comment on RT’s interview put it: “by posting this video and also not disabling comments you’ve totally screwed yourselves.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/mon ... 78a84b8e97
Skripal Poisoning Suspect’s Passport Data Shows Link to Security Services
September 14, 2018 By Bellingcat Investigation Team
Read The Insider Russian report on this same topic here.
An ongoing Bellingcat investigation conducted jointly with The Insider Russia has confirmed through uncovered passport data that the two Russian nationals identified by UK authorities as prime suspects in the Novichok poisonings on British soil are linked to Russian security services. This finding directly contradicts claims by the Russian president on 12 September 2018, and by the two men in an interview broadcast on RT one day later, that they are civilians who traveled to Salisbury for a tourist getaway.
Original Russian documents reviewed by Bellingcat and The Insider confirm definitively that the two men were registered in the central Russian resident database under the names Alexander Yevgenievich Petrov and Ruslan Timurovich Boshirov, respectively, and were issued internal passports under these names in 2009. However, no records exist for these two personas prior to 2009. This suggests the two names were likely cover identities for operatives of one of the Russian security services. Crucially, at least one man’s passport files contain various “top-secret” markings, which, according to at least two sources consulted by Bellingcat, are typically reserved for members of secret services or top state operatives.
These findings, along with peculiarities in the two men’s bookings of their flight to London, make Russia’s official statements that Petrov and Boshirov are civilian tourists implausible, and corroborate UK authorities’ claims that they are in fact officers of a Russian security service.
Last-minute travel plans
Aeroflot’s passenger manifest, reviewed by Bellingcat and The Insider, discredits Petrov and Boshirov’s claims, made in the RT interview, that they had been planning their visit to Salisbury for a long time. The manifest records the times of booking, check-in, and boarding of each passenger. In the case of the two suspects, they made their initial booking – and checked in online – at 20:00 GMT (22:00 Moscow time) on 1 March 2018, the night before their short trip to London and Salisbury.
(Click the manifest below to view it in full resolution)
The two suspects flew back to Moscow on 4 March 2018, having taken two trips to Salisbury both on March 3rd and March 4th, the day on which the Skripals were poisoned.
An Extraordinary Passport File
Bellingcat and The Insider have reviewed original records from the central Russian passport and residential registration database and have identified the passport files belonging to the two suspects.
The person using the name Alexander Petrov does in fact have a passport file, under the name Alexander Yevgenievich Petrov, born on 13 July 1979 in Kotlas, a small town in northern Russia. The birth date coincides with that of the Alexander Petrov who flew on Aeroflot flight SU2588 on 2 March 2018, as seen in the passenger manifest reviewed by Bellingcat.
This person’s domestic passport photo matches the photos released by the UK authorities and the face of the person calling himself Alexander Petrov in the RT interview.
Mr. Petrov’s passport file contains peculiarities that are not found in any other passport file reviewed by Bellingcat and The Insider in this and prior investigations.
Born in 2009?
First, this person’s file lacks any history of address registrations or previous identification documents issued prior to 2009. A standard passport file – such as the files of the other 3 Russian citizens bearing the name Alexander Petrov and born on 13 July 1979, all of which were reviewed by Bellingcat and the Insider before identifying the person of interest – contain a history of previous, expired ID documents (called domestic passports), international passports issued to the person (both expired and current), as well as previous address registrations. The first – and only – Russian ID document listed for Mr. Petrov under his file is an internal passport (mandatory for Russian citizens over the age of 14) issued on 26 November 2009, and valid until today. The passport file contains a field called “reason for issue of document”, which typically lists the previous (expired) ID document that the current one substitutes. In Mr. Petrov’s case, the reason for issuance of the new passport is listed simply as “Unsuitable for usage”, a marking typically used when a previous passport has been damaged or found to contain invalid data. A hand-written note in Petrov’s file makes a reference to a pre-existing national passport issued in St. Petersburg in 1999. However, no record of such a passport number exists in the central passport database.
“Do not provide any information”
Alexander Petrov’s passport dossier is marked with a stamp containing the instruction “Do not provide any information”. This stamp does not exist in standard civilian passport files. A source working in the Russian police force who regularly works with the central database confirmed to Bellingcat and The Insider that they have never seen such a stamp on any passport form in their career. That source surmised that this marking reserved for operatives of the state under deep cover.
Adding additional credence to the hypothesis that Alexander Petrov’s persona is a cover identity comes from another page in his passport file, which is reserved for input of biographical data. In Mr. Petrov’s case, this page is left blank, and in addition to the same stamp “Do not provide information”, a hand-written note is added with the text “There is a letter. S.S.”. Per the same source interviewed for this story, S.S. is a common abbreviation for “sovershenno sekretno”, Russian for “top secret”.
Another clue pointing to the non-civilian status of Mr. Petrov is the absence from his passport file of any information about his international passport, which he used to travel to the United Kingdom. The passport number is listed in the Aeroflot passenger manifest reviewed by Bellingcat. However, the passport file shows no international passport belonging to Alexander Petrov, in contrast with regular practice – under which the file contains a list of all government-issued ID documents, both national and international passports, expired and currently valid.
(Click the passport data below to view it in full resolution)
The Russian media outlet Fontanka has previously published information on Boshirov and Petrov’s passport files, indicating that they were separated by only 3 digits (-1294 and -1297), meaning that they were issued at nearly the same time. Bellingcat and The Insider also reviewed passport data for the other two individuals to whom those two passports were issued, with the the passport numbers ending in -1295 and -1296. These two individuals also had peculiar passport dossiers, with incomplete or time-capped data, similar to Alexander Petrov’s passport file. Additionally, Fontanka noted that Petrov and Boshirov bought two separate return flights back to Moscow on March 4. Additional information on these findings, along with other discoveries related to Boshirov and Petrov, will be published on Bellingcat’s site next week.
https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and- ... -services/
Skripal suspects' interviewer hangs up on BBC after being accused of peddling Russian 'propaganda'
14 SEPTEMBER 2018 • 2:52PM
The journalist who interviewed the prime suspects in the Salisbury poisoning case hung up on the BBC when a Newsnight presenter accused her Kremlin-funded network of being a "propaganda tool for the Russian state".
Margarita Simonyan, RT's editor-in-chief, sat down with Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin called on them to talk to the media.
The pair have been charged with the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal who were poisoned by Novichok - the same nerve agent that killed Dawn Sturgess after she inadvertently sprayed the substance on her wrists thinking it was perfume.
Simonyan appeared on Newsnight and was being interviewed by Kirsty Wark, who asked her Russian guest if she was concerned by the manner of the interview, suggesting it re-enforced the idea that RT - formerly Russia Today - was a propagandist station.
The spiky response was: "You did watch the interview, didn't you? Did you see my face? Did you see the tone? You probably don't speak Russian.
"The questions were obviously quite hard for them and made them nervous and at some point they even said something like, 'We came here and we thought you would support us, you behave like we're in an interrogation in a court'.
"But I said I'm not here to protect you, I'm not your advocate, I'm a journalist. I don't know why you would say that.
"Your question is totally unobjective to me now. Your question seems like typical Western propaganda because of which people actually watch RT. It's nothing like you're saying it was. Thank you very much."
Wark was in the process of trying to ask one final question when her guest hung up. Earlier, Simonyan told her: "I've been a reporter for more than 20 years now and I only believe what I see with my own eyes.
"I saw with my own eyes that they look completely like the people on the video released by the British police.
"So for that matter, I do believe they are those people. But as far as the story goes, I don't have any reason to believe them.
"I do not know them, I've not spent life with them, they are not my friends, but I have no more reason to believe them than secret services who have been lying previously."
Skripal suspects' mobiles out of service despite vow to send Salisbury photos
The Russian prime suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attack promised to send pictures of "their trip to Salisbury Cathedral", but their phones have since gone out of service, the journalist who met the pair has said.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russian state-sponsored network RT, said the duo - who identified themselves as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the men suspected by British intelligence of carrying out the poisoning - want "this story to be over".
Skripal poisoning suspects deny allegations in exclusive interview
Ms Simonyan told BBC Newsnight the pair contacted her mobile phone to set up the interview, but only if she agreed to a strict tranche of conditions that would minimise the prospect of them being tracked down.
She disclosed that the two men had agreed to send her images of their visit to Salisbury Cathedral - a landmark Boshirov had mentioned was one of the main draws for their visit to the Wiltshire city - but had since failed to do so.
The phone the pair used to make contact with the journalist no longer appeared to be in service, she said.
Ms Simonyan said: "They told me that if they found those pictures, they would send them to me on WhatsApp. I'm still waiting. They didn't have them on them.
"I tried to call them on the phone on which they called me but it has been out of coverage. They said if they found the pictures they would send them to me but I am still waiting."
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov have been accused by Britain as being the Salisbury poisoners CREDIT: METROPOLITAN POLICE
The RT interviewer told the BBC: "We had a conversation before the interview and they said that they had several conditions on which they were ready to give an interview.
"And one of the conditions was that no questions would be allowed that would allow the media to track their acquaintances or their business partners or their relatives or their classmates or whomever.
"As they said - and this is their words not mine - that this is their first and last interview to the media ever.
"They want this story to be over, and they don't want to give any hints or extra information to the media."
RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan shows an image of two men during an interview with Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov CREDIT: TASS VIA GETTY IMAGES
Kremlin will consider British request to question suspects
The Kremlin has said it will consider any request by Britain to question the two suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The UK has accused the two Russian men, who appeared on Russian television on Thursday, of the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any request from London to interview them would be considered in "strict accordance with the law" but so far the British had rejected any offer to co-operate in the investigation, the Tass news agency reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov CREDIT: REUTERS
"Only this week, we heard an official statement from London, which said that they did not plan to employ the legal assistance mechanism and send any requests to Russia," he said.
"It is London's official stance and we regret to say that it is impossible to make any assumptions, unfortunately," Mr Peskov said.
"In case we receive an official request from London, it will definitely be considered in strict accordance with the law, there is no doubt about that."
In their RT television interview, the two men, who gave their names as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, said they had visited Salisbury as tourists and had nothing to do with the attack on the Skripals.
Their claims were dismissed by Downing Street as "lies and blatant fabrications".
Claim that pair visited Salisbury Cathedral 'does not add up', says bishop
The claim by two suspects in the Skripal case that they visited Salisbury to see its cathedral "doesn't seem to add up", the Wiltshire city's bishop has said.
Bishop of Salisbury Nicholas Holtam said he was not aware of any evidence linking Petrov and Boshirov to the cathedral, and suggested that the Russian men might have benefited from a visit to the building and a viewing of its copy of Magna Carta.
Responding to the men's claims, the bishop told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It doesn't really add up, does it?"
Asked whether there was CCTV footage of them at the cathedral, he said: "There's nothing to link (them with) the cathedral that we have got, or I think anybody has got. There's no way of proving that."
The bishop said that his response to the men's TV interview was to think "What a pity that they didn't spend longer in that city, where they could have explored the cathedral and seen a building that is committed to the love of God, where there is regular worship to lift our hearts, the tallest spire and a copy of Magna Carta about the rule of law and of justice. They didn't seem to see any of that, did they?"
Russian prime suspects accused of being military intelligence officers
UK authorities believe the pair arrived on a flight from Moscow in March and smeared the highly toxic chemical Novichok on a door handle at the Wiltshire home of former spy Sergei Skripal, leaving Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia critically ill.
Officers formally linked the attack on the Skripals to events in nearby Amesbury where Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, were exposed to the same nerve agent.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/0 ... nd-photos/
Skripal Suspects Confirmed as GRU Operatives: Prior European Operations Disclosed
September 20, 2018 By Bellingcat Investigation Team
In the previous part of a joint investigation, Bellingcat and The Insider – Russia established that:
Alexander Petrov – a fake cover persona for a yet unidentified Russian individual – is not a civilian but linked to one of Russia’s security services. This assessment was based on an exhaustive analysis of “Petrov” passport dossier as obtained from the Russian central passport database.
Petrov and Boshirov made last-minute travel plans to fly to the United Kingdom, which – coupled with the double-booking of return flights on two consecutive dates – makes the “tourism” explanation implausible.
Petrov and Boshirov travelled on international passports that differed by 3 consecutive digits, making it implausible that they were civilians who obtained their passports through the regular, entropic passport application process available to Russian citizens.
Since the publication of the first part of this investigation, other media have followed suit with obtaining access to, and disclosing the passport file of “Ruslan Boshirov” – the second suspect in the Skripals poisoning. The leaked passport file extracts similarly displayed characteristics atypical of a civilian person’ passport. Bellingcat can confirm the authenticity of the leaked passport file of “Boshirov”, and that it contains all three markings that helped identify “Petrov” as a security-service asset: “Top Secret” annotations, a blank biographical page referring to a secret attached letter, a “do not provide information” stamp, and issuing authority unit 777001, exclusively used for state VIPs and intelligence officers. In addition, “Boshirov” also has no recorded history prior to the issuance of his domestic ID passport in 2010 (2009 in “Petrov”’s case)
Bellingcat and the Insider can confirm definitively that both “Alexander Petrov” and “Ruslan Boshirov” are active GRU officers. This conclusion is based both on objective data and on discussions with confidential Russian sources familiar with the identity of at least one of the two persons.
A Numbers Game
As we wrote in the first part of this investigation. “Alexander Petrov”’s passport file contained a stamp with the marking “Do not provide data”, followed by a cryptic number. The same stamp – and the same number – appeared in “Boshirov”’s dossier.
Following the publication of part 1, Novaya Gazeta hypothesized that the number sequence may be a telephone number that belongs – based on comparing number pattern – to the Russian Ministry of Defense. In addition, at least two reporters were able to call that number and speak to someone confirming this is a Ministry of Defense line.
Bellingcat and the Insider have obtained documents proving that the number on the suspects’ stamps indeed is identical to a telephone number that belongs to the Ministry of Defense, and is located at Khoroshevskoe Chausse – where the Headquarters of the GRU is based.
In a centralized database called “Unified State Telephone Directory of the Moscow Region”, dated 2012, the telephone number from the dossier stamps – 1957966, preceded by the Moscow prefix 495 – is found to belong to a telephone exchange with “zone of operation: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation”
Additionally, many listed telephone numbers in the Moscow telephone database that start with 1957*** have addresses located at Khoroshevskoe Chausse, such as the Ministry of Defense-owned magazine “Foreign Military Review”. The only military unit at or near Khoroshevskoe Chausse is the headquarters of the GRU.
However, it’s two other numbers that provide the most corroborative link between the two Skripal suspects and the GRU. It’s their international passport numbers.
As discussed in the previous installment, the two suspects’ international-travel passports were not recorded in their passport files – which is atypical for the Russian passport dossier system. This suggests the passports were issued by a special agency that does not report to the centralized registrar of government-issued ID’s, commonly known in Russia as the “FMS database”. Such a “disconnect” would be logical if this agency issues covert international passports under cover identities.
A “special issuing agency” would explain also the proximity of the passport numbers between the two suspects – only 3 intervening digits (as one would assume that Russian, internationally active secret-service agents are a finite, relatively small number).
Bellingcat and the Insider have previously investigated and reported on a different GRU officer who also traveled under a cover persona and passport. This was the case of Col. Eduard Shishmakov, a former Russian Military Attaché in Warsaw expelled by Poland in 2014 for espionage. Col. Shishmakov, using an undercover (albeit not very creative) persona and passport in the name of Eduard Shirokov, travelled to Serbia in October 2016 to supervise – as alleged by the Montenegro special prosecutor – a failed coup against the pro-Western government in Podgorica. In a previous report, the Insider identified that Col. Shirokov wired funds to a co-conspirator in Serbia via Western Union, using the address of the GRU headquarters as the “Sender” address.
Bellingcat compared the passport number on Col. Shishmakov’s cover-identity passport, with the numbers of the (cover-identity) passports of “Petrov” and “Boshirov”. The numbers were from the same batch, with only 26 intervening passport numbers between “Petrov”’s (654341297), and “Shirokov”’s (654341323) number. “Shirokov”’s passport was issued in August 2016, implying that Petrov’s and Boshirov’s passports were issued by the same special authority earlier that year. Indeed, as we will see in their international itinerary below, they start travelling in early April 2016, suggesting that only 26 passports were issued by this special authority between April and August 2016.
There can be little doubt that both Shishmakov/Shirokov, and “Petrov”/”Boshirov” acquired their cover passports under the same, restricted procedure – and in the same batch of sequence numbers – available to secret service officers. As Shishmakov’s link to GRU has been established incontrovertibly before, it is unlikely that “Petrov” and “Boshirov” are assets of a different Russian intelligence service, especially in light of the MoD telephone numbers marked on their passport dossiers.
Bellingcat and the Insider have obtained “Petrov”‘s and “Boshirov”s border crossing data for a number of countries in Europe and Asia, for the period of validity of their international passports (mid-2016 through today). Their globe-trotting, unpredictably meandering itinerary is at times reminiscent of characters out of Mission Impossible, yet a focus on the countries of Western Europe is clearly visible.
The two operatives’ international globe-hopping on their newly issued passport start on April 8th 2016, when “Petrov” (or Petrov and Boshirov, as our investigation tracked only Petrov’s passport data) drives to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to fly out from there to Amsterdam. He arrives in the Netherlands two days after the hotly disputed referendum on Ukraine’s EU accession, and flies back to Moscow 10 days later.
The second trip Petrov takes up is perplexing. On July 11th 2016, he crosses the border from Russia into Kazakhstan by bus, and reports to Kazakh border authorities “Beijing” as his final destination. It is uncertain as to how he planned to reach the capital of China, given the more than 5000 km between the border-crossing point and Beijing. It is possible that he gave that destination as a decoy, or that he planned to ride to Astana and then take a plane to China. Whatever his plans were, we lose track of him for the next 15 days, when he shows up again on a flight back to Moscow – from Israel’s capital Tel-Aviv.
Two months later, Petrov takes a trip to Amsterdam, and from there flies to London – this appears to be his – or their – first trip to the United Kingdom, where less than two years later they will be suspected of smearing Novichok on the door handle of a former colleague. It is not certain how much time he spent in the UK, but the total Netherlands-UK trip lasted just under a week
Petrov’s next trip is again to Amsterdam – two months after returning from London. This time he stays in Europe 12 days, and returns to Moscow on a flight from Paris at the end of November.
Petrov’s next trip is on February 28th 2017, and it is – once again – to the United Kingdom. He stays there for 6 days, and returns, sinisterly, on March 4th – the same day they will poison Sergey Skripal and his daughter a year later.
Between September 2017 and February 2018, Petrov makes five trips to France and Switzerland, usually landing in Paris and returning from Geneva. The last trip is the longest – he spends two weeks in Europe, between January 23 and February 6th, and flies into – and back from – Geneva.
The next trip is their last to Europe – on March 2nd 2018 they both land at Gatwick, having purchased their tickets the previous evening – on the day before Sergey Skripal’s daughter would arrive in London.
A source in a Western European law-enforcement agency informed Bellingcat that Petrov and Boshirov were arrested on the territory of the Netherlands. No information was provided as to the time and context of such arrests. European media have previously reported arrests and deportation of two unidentified Russian spies on Dutch soil; leaked police information linked the arrests with attempts by the two to smuggle hacking equipment to Switzerland, with the goal to infiltrate the Spiez laboratory. The Spiez lab worked on investigating the chemical attacks in Syria, and later on determining the poisoning agent in the Skripal case.
Even though the media outlets that broke this story reported that the incident took place in the spring of 2018, they acknowledged that the exact time was unknown. Bellingcat and the Insider will continue to investigate whether the hypothetical arrest of “Petrov” and “Boshirov” on Dutch soil did take place as reported, and if so, whether such arrest was linked to the reported arrests of two spies in the Netherlands.
https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and- ... disclosed/
Mission implausible: Russians mock improbable spy duo
"Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town"
The story spun by the two Russian suspects in the Salisbury poisoning was met with snorts of derision in the UK. But less predictable is the mockery that seemingly tall tale is getting back home in Russia.
The appearance by Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov on Kremlin-funded TV to claim that they were tourists - not hired assassins - has been widely ridiculed in Russia.
It has left some wondering about the judgement of those in charge.
Bungled attempt to impress Putin?
Gennady Gudkov had always suspected the Salisbury attack was the work of Russian agents. When the former KGB officer saw the men on TV - straight after President Vladimir Putin had called on the pair to appear and explain themselves - any lingering doubts disappeared.
"It would clearly have been better for the men to stay silent," Mr Gudkov argued, in an office decorated with medals testifying to his own years in service. "All thinking people in Russia are asking 'what was that? what was it for?'"
He is now sure the men are agents of Russian military intelligence, the GRU.
Gennady Gudkov is pictured wearing an open-collared shirt and suit jacket in a quiet, leafy street
"What was Putin thinking?" asks former KGB officer Gennady Gudkov
His own sources suggest the attack on Sergei Skripal, a GRU officer-turned-traitor, was a bungled attempt to impress President Putin by an agency pushing for more influence and power.
But he cannot understand why the suspects were ever put on TV.
"What was Putin thinking? I think it shows degradation among those in power. They've lost the ability to do anything normal. The system is falling apart."
It looks like the official cover story is collapsing too.
Did suspects have intelligence passports?
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday likened stories linking Russia with the poisoning to the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. "Everyone has seen them, everyone has talked to them… but closer inspection reveals that it's all fake," she said.
But the investigative team at Bellingcat has obtained a passport form for Alexander Petrov.
One stamp at the top reads "Do not Divulge".
Another marking could be an abbreviation for Top Secret with what seems to be a defence ministry phone number alongside.
Presentational white space
The document appears to be authentic.
A woman at the apartment marked on the form told the BBC she had been living there for four years.
She never met the previous owner, but after moving in she received multiple traffic fine notifications addressed to Alexander Petrov.
Bellingcat has now released further material, including evidence that suggests the Salisbury suspects' passports were issued in the same batch as a known GRU operative.
President Vladimir Putin says the suspects are civilians
State media went into overdrive after the TV "interview", presenting the men as innocent enthusiasts of Gothic architecture.
A suggestion that they were in fact a gay couple on a weekend away - first hinted at by their interviewer - was frequently highlighted.
Outside Russia, many commentators saw an act of blatant defiance: raising two fingers to Britain and its accusations.
It is an area where Moscow has form. Accused of everything from election meddling in the US to complicity in downing flight MH17 over Ukraine, Russia has spun parallel narratives and sown maximum doubt.
But the public reaction this time suggests officials have gone too far.
'Society is laughing at authorities'
"Those who want to believe still do, but others say it's a disaster," argues Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, who describes the TV appearance as ridiculous.
"If the level of our special services is so low, people wonder what we can expect from anyone else," he adds.
On the trail of Russians Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who UK police say carried out a nerve agent attack in Salisbury in March 2018
Mr Baunov thinks the nerve agent attack was an attempt to send a "silent signal" to any Russians contemplating betrayal. He believes the intelligence community has been unnerved by a surge in recruitment approaches by Western agencies, in a climate of renewed hostility.
But the cover-up seems to have backfired as badly as the actual operation. Instead of quaking with fright, many Russians are laughing at their spies instead.
"It's not just teasing, it's mockery. I have friends who couldn't believe our lot could be so rotten," Gennady Gudkov admits. "Now they call me, and they believe."
With jokes and memes flooding social media, some commentators suggest a line has been crossed.
Skripal suspects interview: Key excerpts
MH17: Dutch ask Russia to submit new claims
"What seemed morally unacceptable before has become the new norm, it's routine," Andrei Kolesnikov wrote on Gazeta.ru, calling the Salisbury suspects' appearance a "clown show" and their story "obvious, evasive lies".
But he sees another new norm in response.
"Society is laughing at the authorities," the journalist wrote. "State propaganda is becoming genuinely comic and that discredits and weakens those in power."
That reaction is not limited to the Skripal case.
Presentational white space
Commentators also highlight an extraordinary video posted online by the head of Russia's National Guard in the same week, calling the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to a duel.
In full uniform, Viktor Zolotov threatened to turn the opposition politician into mincemeat, waving his fist and arguing that what Mr Navalny needed was a "good hiding".
Presumably meant to strike fear, the video provoked a barrage of scorn instead, as a series of public figures recorded parodies of the general's foul-mouthed challenge.
"The picture is one of a spiral of decreasing control," argues Alexander Baunov, who sees the threat as another sign of hardliners attempting to impose order at home, as well as abroad.
There is a more immediate risk for Russia, though, in the Skripal story. The suspects were wheeled out just as the United States considers introducing further, tougher sanctions on Moscow, linked to the chemical attack.
"Internationally, the timing could not have been worse," Alexander Baunov points out, suggesting that behind the smirks and bravado officials are worried.
"It will be almost impossible for the US government not to impose the next set of sanctions," he believes. "It could be quite disastrous."
Skripal Suspect Boshirov Identified as GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga
Bellingcat and its investigative partner The Insider – Russia have established conclusively the identity of one of the suspects in the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal, and in the homicide of British citizen Dawn Sturgess.
Part 1 and Part 2 of Bellingcat’s investigation into the Skripal poisoning suspects are available for background information. In these previous two parts of the investigation, Bellingcat and the Insider concluded that the two suspects – traveling internationally and appearing on Russian television under the aliases “Ruslan Boshirov” and “Alexander Petrov” – are in fact undercover officers of the Russian Military Intelligence, widely known as GRU.
Bellingcat has been able to confirm the actual identity of one of the two officers. The suspect using the cover identity of “Ruslan Boshirov” is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated GRU officer bestowed with Russia’s highest state award, Hero of the Russian Federation. Following Bellingcat’s own identification, multiple sources familiar with the person and/or the investigation have confirmed the suspect’s identity.
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.
While civilians in Russia can generally own more than one passport, no civilian – or even an intelligence service officer on a personal trip – can cross the state border under a fake identity. The discovery also highlights the extent of the effort – and public diplomacy risk – Russia has taken to protect the identities of the officers. President Putin publicly vouched that “Boshirov” and “Petrov” are civilians. As it is established practice that the awards Hero of the Russian Federation are handed out by the Russian president personally, it is highly likely that Vladimir Putin would have been familiar with the identity of Colonel Chepiga, given that only a handful of officers receive this award each year.
Who is Colonel Chepiga?
Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga was born on 5 May 1979, in the far-eastern village of Nikolaevka in the Amur oblast, population 300, near the Russia-China border. At age 18, he enrolled at a military school just 40 kilometers from his home, the Far-Eastern Military Command Academy in Blagoveschensk, one of Russia’s elite training grounds for marine commandos and Spetsnaz officers.
Anatoliy Chepiga graduated the academy with honors in 2001. He was then assigned to serve in the 14th Spetsnaz Brigade in Russia’s farthest-eastern city of Khabarovsk, one of the elite Spetsnaz units under GRU command. Chepiga’s unit (74854, formerly 20662) played a key role in the second Chechen War, and was also observed near the Ukrainian border in late 2014.
Over the course of his assignment to the 14th Spetsnaz Brigade, Colonel Chepiga was deployed three times to Chechnya. The specific operations he was involved in are not known; however, a website of a far-eastern branch of a state-run military volunteer organization reports that he received over 20 military awards in the course of his service.
At some point between 2003 (the last year we identified him at the 14th Spetsnaz Brigade in Khabarovsk) and 2010 (the year he received his first undercover passport), Anatoliy Chepiga was assigned his alter ego, “Ruslan Boshirov”, and was relocated to Moscow. Given his current rank of Colonel and function as a clandestine GRU officer, it is plausible that during this period he graduated from the Military Diplomatic Academy, also known as the “GRU Conservatory,” in Moscow.
In December 2014, Colonel Chepiga was awarded Russia’s highest state award, Hero of the Russian Federation.This award is bestowed personally by the President of Russia “as recognition of services to the state and the people of Russia involving a heroic deed”.
Most of the awards are handed out in public ceremonies – and accompanied by a presidential decree, such as the award in 2016 to Russian officers fighting in Syria. Other presidential decrees – when the underlying act of heroism is subject to state secrecy – are kept secret. This is the case with the award to Colonel Chepiga. While there is no publicly issued decree – or reference to him on the Kremlin website – the state-run volunteer website specifies that he received the award “in December 2014…for conducting a peace-keeping mission.”
Indeed, the fact that Colonel Chepiga was bestowed the Hero of Russia award is announced on the website of his military school. While most other recipients of the award have a detailed description of the acts that resulted in the recognition, the last two recipients – Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Popov – received only a terse statement: “by decree from the Russian president.” This further implies that the mission he – or they – were awarded for was secret.
Memorial wall of the Far Eastern Military Command School with Colonel Chepiga as the last name under the Gold Star honor list
The phrasing and timing of the award provides significant clues as to where Colonel Chepiga’s mission was. In 2014, there were no military activities in Chechnya. Russia had not engaged militarily in Syria yet. The only region in which Russia was conducting active military operations in secrecy at the time was in Eastern Ukraine, which is the most likely theatre of his mission, as suggested by the secrecy of his award.
Anatoliy Chepiga is married and has one child.
The Challenge of Finding Colonel Chepiga
Bellingcat began the search with only the two targets’ photographs and their cover identities. Initially we attempted reverse image-search via several online engines, but no matches were found. Similarly, no name telephone numbers were registered in the name of “Ruslan Boshirov” in any of the reverse-searchable telephone databases usually scraped by Bellingcat.
Having tried these initial avenues of pursuit, Bellingcat and the Insider approached the search deductively. On the assumption that the two suspects were GRU officers with a focus on West European covert operations (see our second publication about the Skripal poisoning suspects), and knowing their approximate age, we contacted former Russian military officers to inquire what specialized schools would have provided appropriate training. One of the sources we contacted suggested that the school with the best reputation for foreign-language training and overseas clandestine operations at the turn of the century – when the two suspects would have studied – was the Far Eastern Military Command Academy. The graduation years for the two were estimated between 2001 and 2003.
We browsed through multiple (incomplete) yearbook photos and reunion galleries of the classes of 2001-2003 but did not find exact matches for either of the suspects. There were several possible – but not certain – matches for the suspect “Boshirov”. One of these was in a group photograph from a 2018 article about the history of the Academy. Near a photograph of Academy graduates deployed in Chechnya, the text referred to “seven school graduates [who] were bestowed with the Hero of Russia Award”.
Photo of DVOKU graduates on assignment in Chechnya, undated. Bellingcat does not claim that the person on the right is Chepiga; photograph included for completeness of research process only
While testing the hypothesis that the unnamed person at right-most end of the photo might be “Boshirov,” we searched online for references to “DVOKU” (the Russian abbreviation for the Far Eastern Military Command Academy), “Chechnya” and “Hero of the Russian Federation.” This search landed us at the above-referenced Volunteer Union website, which described a certain Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga as linked to all three search terms.
Online searches in both Google and via two Russian search engines found no images, or social media presence, related to a Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, or to anyone by that name with a military connection. This appeared to be highly unusual, given the fact he had been awarded the highest state honor.
Subsequently, the research team scoured leaked Russian databases for references to Anatoliy Chepiga. A number of leaked residential and/or telephone databases of various Russian cities and regions are freely available as torrents on the internet; data in such databases varies in recency between 2000 and 2014.
The research team was able to find Anatoliy Chepiga in two locations and time periods in the database: in 2003, in Khabarovsk; and in 2012 in Moscow.
In the 2003 database, a certain Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga was listed with a phone number and an address only described as “в/ч 20662“, the Russian abbreviation for Military Unit 20662. 20662 is the Ministry of Defense designation number of Spetsnaz unit of GRU’s 14th Brigade in Khabarovsk.
At press time, the telephone number listed next to the name of Anatoliy Chepiga was used by a person who has owned it for 4 years, and who was not aware of the previous owner of the number.
Bellingcat accepted the working assumption that this person was indeed Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, described in the publication as “Hero of the Russian Federation”.
In the 2012 database, one person named Anatoliy Vladirovich Chepiga were listed as residing in Moscow. This man was born on 5 April 1979.
Using the birth date, address and family members’ names, Bellingcat searched for this man online and on social networks, to no avail. Another person with the same full name and birth year – but a different date of birth – was identified as a business owner unrelated to “Boshirov”. The birth year (1979) of the candidate from the database was one year later than the birth year in “Boshirov”s cover documents, however it corresponded to a graduation year from the military academy in 2001.
At this point, Bellingcat accepted the working hypothesis that the man from the 2003 and 2012 databases is the same, and is in fact Colonel Chepiga, Hero of the Russian Federation.
To establish if he is, in fact, “Boshirov,” we needed to obtain a photograph. None were available online or in open sources, even in a number of articles that referred to “Hero of Russia Colonel Chepiga.” Another graduate of DVOKU who reportedly received the same award simultaneously with Chepiga – Alexander Popov – could be seen in photos and videos, yet Chepiga was conspicuously absent. The systematic omission from photographs of an otherwise notable figure – which Bellingcat had previously observed in the case of GRU General Oleg Ivannikov, who served as Minister of Defense of South Ossetia under the cover identity of Andrey Laptev – suggested that Colonel Chepiga may also be a secret service officer.
To validate the hypothesis that Chepiga is Skripal poisoning suspect “Boshirov,” Bellingcat and The Insider obtained extracts from the passport file of Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga – the man born on 5th April 1978 – from two separate sources with access to databases dated prior to 2014, .
The passport file contained a photograph – dated approximately in 2003, when this passport was obtained – that strongly resembled a younger “Boshirov” as seen in passport photos released by the UK police, with an even stronger resemblance to the cover identity passport photo published in our previous publication on the Skripal suspects.
Left: Anatoliy Chepiga’s passport photo from 2003. Middle: “Ruslan Boshirov”‘s passport photo from 2009. Right: “Ruslan Boshirov”, as seen in a photograph released by UK police
A passport application form in the passport dossier listed Chepiga’s 2003 place of residence as “Military Unit 20662, Khabarovsk”, confirming this was indeed the person identified in the 2003 database. It also listed his place of birth as “village of Nikolaevka”, further linking this person to the Hero of the Russian Federation with the same name.
The passport application form identified also Anatoliy Chepiga’s marital status and listed his military ID number.
A Mission of Critical Importance
Based on the array of information sources consulted – all of which were independent from each other and came from different time periods – Bellingcat was able to conclude with certainty that the person identified by UK authorities as “Ruslan Boshirov,” is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga, a highly decorated senior officer from Russian military intelligence who was awarded the highest state honor in late 2014.
This finding starkly contradicts both this man’s statements, as made in a TV interview to Russia’s state-run RT network, and President Vladimir Putin’s assertions that the person in question is merely a civilian named Ruslan Boshirov. These demonstrated falsehoods overshadow this man’s – and the Russian government’s – other denials in this respect, and corroborate the UK authorities’ allegations that this individual was a) complicit in the Skripal poisoning and b) acted on orders from a high-level government authority in Russia.
Bellingcat has contacted confidentially a former Russian military officer of similar rank as Colonel Chepiga, in order to receive a reaction to what we found. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed surprise that at least one of the operatives engaged in the operation in Salisbury had the rank of colonel. Even more surprising was the suspects’ prior award of the highest military recognition.
In our source’s words, an operation of this sort would have typically required a lower-ranked, “field operative” with a military rank of “no higher than captain.” The source further surmised that to send a highly decorated colonel back to a field job would be highly extraordinary, and would imply that “the job was ordered at the highest level.”
https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and- ... y-chepiga/
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