Russian ex-spy poisoning suspect is GRU colonel, investigative group says

Handout.  Reuters

The group noted that the officer was decorated with the Hero of Russian Federation medal in December 2014, signalling that he likely received the high award for his actions in eastern Ukraine.

Two Russian men later appeared on the state-funded RT channel and made widely mocked claims that they only went to England in early March to visit the "wonderful town" of Salisbury and its famous cathedral.

Moscow has denied any involvement in the attacks.

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.

But beyond a photo from Chepiga's 2003 passport file resembling Boshirov, the report didn't contain further proof that Boshirov and Chepiga are the same person.

Bellingcat, a website that covers intelligence matters, said on September 26 that together with its investigative partner, the Insider, it had established that the man who was named as Ruslan Boshirov is actually GRU Colonel Anatoly Chepiga.

The Telegraph has reported Chepiga had fought for the elite special forces unit Spetsnaz under the authority of the GRU for 17 years while also working undercover for at least nine years.

A former senior Russian military officer said Chepiga's ranking and experience suggested "the job was ordered at the highest level".

Boshirov and another man whose passport name is Alexander Petrov, have been charged in the U.K.in the March attack in Salisbury on the Russian ex-double agent Skripal and his daughter Yulia using the Novichok, a type of nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Bellingcat said it had received tips from former Russian military officers and perused pictures of graduates of Russian military academies. Other Russian soldiers who have recently received the award with few details mentioned have been found to be fighting covertly in eastern Ukraine or Syria.

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 nearly exactly the same time.

The men were seen in Salisbury on the day of the attack, 4 March, according to CCTV footage.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May attacked Russian Federation for its "desperate fabrication" over the poisoning of a former spy.

The pair are accused of murdering local woman Dawn Sturgess who was unintentionally poisoned by a discarded bottle that contained the deadly nerve agent.

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