NEWS
26/09/2018 17:30 BST | Updated 27/09/2018 13:28 BST

Novichok Suspect Identified As Russian GRU Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga - Reports

'This finding eliminates any remaining doubt.'

One of the suspects in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter has been identified as a colonel in Russian military intelligence (GRU), according to reports.

An investigation by the website Bellingcat claims Ruslan Boshirov is in fact 39-year-old Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, a veteran GRU officer who has served in Chechnya and Ukraine.

In 2014 he was awarded Russia’s highest military honour, the Hero of the Russian Federation, by Vladimir Putin himself.

Bellingcat concludes:

“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.”

Chepiga was originally identified as “Boshirov” by UK authorities, who assumed it was a cover name.

He and the other suspect in the case, currently still known as Alexander Petrov, were captured on CCTV in Salisbury on the day before and the day of the poisoning of the Skripals in March.

After the UK government identified the two men they appeared on the Russian state-backed news channel RT and said they were merely “tourists” who visited Salisbury to see the city’s famous cathedral.

This short, off-season international jaunt just happened to coincide precisely with the poisoning of the Skripals with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union.

Their story quickly fell apart after it emerged no record of either men existed from before 2009 when passports under their names were issued.

It had already been reported in Russian media that the passport numbers of the men are separated by only three digits (-1294 and -1297) meaning they were issued at almost exactly the same time.

Bellingcat’s latest revelation came after scouring the records of specialist military schools that would provide the training necessary for the covert work the two suspects engaged in.

They then found photographs of graduates which they cross referenced with passport and other records.

Their findings were confirmed by “multiple sources familiar with the person”.

A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry has dismissed Bellingcat’s claims, and said they were part of an “information campaign” to distract from the investigation into what really happened in Salisbury.

Meanwhile, the Home Office has not confirmed or denied the report, though Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson briefly appeared to confirm it, posting and then deleting a tweet that said the “true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian Colonel”.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, Theresa May attacked Russia for its “desperate fabrication” over the Salisbury spy poisoning as she addressed world leaders in New York.

Britain has set out detailed evidence about the prime suspects in the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia while Russia has only sought to “obfuscate”, the Prime Minister said.

She told the United Nations Security Council: “We have taken appropriate action, with our allies, and we will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure our collective security.

“Russia has only sought to obfuscate through desperate fabrication.”