UK authorities said to suspect 3rd Russian operative in Skripal poisoning

Security services reportedly believe GRU agent went on reconnaissance mission before attempted murder of ex-spy in Salisbury

Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov, right, were charged by British prosecutors with the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury. (Metropolitan Police)
Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov, right, were charged by British prosecutors with the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury. (Metropolitan Police)

British security services say they have identified a third Russian intelligence operative who is believed to have carried out a reconnaissance mission before the attempted murder by poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March.

According to a report in the UK’s The Telegraph, an agent with Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency “is believed to have visited Salisbury to help plan the attack before two of his colleagues brought weapons-grade nerve agent into the UK.”

The man was not named in the report.

Earlier this week, the Britain-based investigative organization Bellingcat identified one of the two main suspects in the poisoning as a colonel in the GRU. Bellingcat said the man identified as “Ruslan Boshirov” by Britain is in fact named Anatoly Chepiga.

British security services in September named Boshirov and Alexander Petrov as suspects in the nerve agent attack on former spy Skripal and his daughter Yulia using a nerve agent called Novichok, but said these were likely to be aliases.

Military forces work on a van in Winterslow, England, on March 12, 2018, as investigations continue into the nerve-agent poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

After they were identified, two men using these names appeared on Russian television to insist they were mere tourists to the English city of Salisbury. “Boshirov” denied working for the GRU.

The new report said Chepiga is a highly-decorated GRU officer with the rank of colonel, who assumed the identify of Ruslan Boshirov for his undercover mission in Britain.

The report included a passport photo of Anatoly Chepiga from 2003. It resembles a younger version of the photo of “Ruslan Boshirov” provided by British authorities.

In this grab taken from CCTV and issued by the Metropolitan Police in London on Wednesday September 5, 2018, Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov walk on Fisherton Road, Salisbury, England on March 4, 2018. (Metropolitan Police via AP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the men suspected of the poisoning were members of Russian military intelligence acting on orders from a “high level.”

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal attends a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in Moscow on August 9, 2006. (AFP/Kommersant Photo/Yuri Senatorov)

Chepiga was born in 1979 in the village Nikolayevka in the Russian Far East and finished a prestigious military academy in the region, said Bellingcat.

He then served in the special forces of the GRU.

A regional branch of the paramilitary organization DOSAAF states on its website that Chepiga went on three tours in Chechnya while in the special forces, and was awarded the Hero of Russia award in 2014.

There is no official record of him receiving the award, traditionally issued by the Russian president, suggesting it was for a classified mission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said this month he knew who the two suspects were, and that they were “civilians, of course.”

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