This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A third suspected Russian military intelligence officer who carried out a reconnaissance mission before the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter has been identified by British counterterrorism police and the security services, The Telegraph newspaper reported on September 27.
The alleged Russian agent is believed to have visited Salisbury to help plan the attack before two of his colleagues brought Novichok, a military-grade chemical weapon that was developed in the Soviet Union, into Britain, The Telegraph said.
“It is understood that the man has now been identified by those investigating the planned hit in March,” the newspaper said without naming the man.
The attack in March left Skripal, 67, and his daughter Yulia, 34, in critical condition, but both recovered after weeks in the hospital.
In June, a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, died and her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, fell ill when they stumbled across remnants of the poison in a town near Salisbury.
On September 5, Britain announced charges against the two Russian men as police issued photographs of the suspects.
Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attempted murder of the Skripals.
Russian President Vladimir Putin previously said the two men shown in British surveillance footage near Skripal’s home in the English city of Salisbury were civilians on a tourist trip.
The investigative website Bellingcat reported on September 26 that the real identity of one of the two Russians blamed by Britain for the Salisbury nerve agent attack on Skripal is Anatoly Chepiga, adding that he was a decorated Russian colonel.
Chepiga served in Chechnya and was awarded the highest state medal — Hero of the Russian Federation — usually bestowed personally by President Vladimir Putin, Bellingcat said, adding that after its own identification of Chepiga, “multiple sources familiar with the person and/or the investigation have confirmed the suspect’s identity.”
Asked if the Kremlin could confirm that Chepiga received the Hero of Russia medal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 28 that he had checked and found no information about such a person receiving the award.
He said in a conference call with reporters that the Kremlin gave little credibility to investigative reports and media articles on the case, adding that “we don’t know how reliable and well-founded they are.”
Peskov said the allegations made by Bellingcat and others can’t serve as a basis for an inquiry, adding that Russia expects Britain to produce official information.
The poisoning led Britain, the United States, the European Union, and others to carry out a series of diplomatic expulsions and financial sanctions against Moscow.
It has further damaged already severely strained relations between Russia and the West.