Moscow dismisses report on suspect in UK poisoning case

A forensic tent covering the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found, on March 8, 2018.
A forensic tent covering the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found, on March 8, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW • Russia has scoffed at a report by a respected investigative group claiming that one of the suspects in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal was a highly decorated colonel in Russian military intelligence.

Bellingcat, the British-based investigative group, said on Wednesday that the real name of one of the suspects is Anatoly Chepiga, a military intelligence colonel decorated with the country's top award, the Hero of Russia.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova dismissed the report, saying it was timed to coincide with the address at the United Nations Security Council of British Prime Minister Theresa May.

"There is no proof - so they are continuing their information campaign whose main task is to divert attention from the main question: WHAT HAPPENED IN SALISBURY?" Ms Zakharova wrote on Facebook late on Wednesday.

She added: "The question remains: when will any proof be provided of involvement of anyone in the Salisbury poisoning, as London calls it?"

Speaking on Wednesday, Mrs May attacked Moscow over the poisoning of Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia with Novichok, a nerve agent designed in the Soviet era, in March.

"Russia has only sought to obfuscate through desperate fabrication," she said.

Bellingcat said Mr Chepiga, 39, graduated from the Far-Eastern Military Command Academy in the city of Blagoveshchensk, one of the country's top training grounds for marine commandos and special forces.

He fought in Chechnya and possibly Ukraine and was bestowed the Hero of Russia award in 2014 for "conducting a peacekeeping mission", a likely reference to the Ukraine conflict.

Bellingcat said it was "highly likely" that Russian President Vladimir Putin knows Mr Chepiga because he personally hands out these awards.

Only a handful of such awards are given each year, often posthumously.

Citing a former Russian military officer, Bellingcat said it was very surprising that a highly decorated officer holding the rank of colonel was sent into the field.

It "would imply that 'the job was ordered at the highest level'", the group quoted its source as saying.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2018, with the headline 'Moscow dismisses report on suspect in UK poisoning case'. Print Edition | Subscribe