(Cyber) GRU (IV): September 2018

Serguei Skripal was a GRU agent who was arrested in 2004. He was accused of collaborating with the British MI6 and sentenced for high treason until 2010, when he was exchanged for Russian agents arrested as part of the ‘Operation Illegal’. Since then, he had lived in the United Kingdom, apparently away from any “annoying” activity linked to his past as a member of the Service. However, in March 2018, he was found unconscious together with his daughter Yulia – she was visiting the United Kingdom – in a bank in Salisbury, allegedly the victim of an attack with Novichok, a Soviet nerve agent. The United Kingdom blames Russia for this attack without much detail.

At the end of June two Britons, a man and a woman, were admitted to the Salisbury District Hospital. An ambulance brought them from Amesbury, a few kilometres from where the former GRU agent and his daughter were poisoned. The investigation confirmed that they had also been poisoned with Novichok, apparently by accident: none of them had any previous connection with what happened in March and, possibly, they found by chance the nerve agent in what appeared to be a bottle of perfume abandoned in a park. The woman died in early July as a result of the effects of the poisoning.

On September 5, as we have already indicated, Theresa May accused two Russian citizens, GRU members, of the Skripal poisoning ([1]). It was publicly stated that Alexander PETROV and Ruslan BOSHIROV (aliases according to the British police itself) travelled to the United Kingdom from Russia. They impregnated a door handle with Novichok, got rid of the poison and returned to Moscow. Numerous security camera captures were provided as evidence. They were accused of conspiracy, attempted murder, possession and use of the nerve agent… but Theresa May herself was aware of the difficulty of extraditing these citizens – perhaps because of the experience gained during the Litvinenko case -.

The Russian reaction and denial came swiftly and even RT interviewed both accused. During that interview they identified themselves as fitness teachers who had gone to Salisbury to enjoy its cathedral, and of course they denied any relationship with GRU. Nevertheless, independent investigations, in this case the one carried out by Bellingcat, defended using graphic material, supposedly contrasted facts and specific data that they were not two innocent teachers called Ruslan and Alexander, but in fact, one of them was Colonel Anatoly CHEPIGA, member of the GRU Special Forces, and the other was Doctor Alexander YEVGENIYEVICH MISHKIN, Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel of the Service. Both of them hold the title of Hero of the Russian Federation, the highest rank that can be bestowed in Russia, which is conferred directly by the President of the Russian Federation.



Of course, these particular accusations – not confirmed by the British government – were refuted by Russia, which tried to discredit organisations such as Bellingcat by accusing them of being at the service – and the salary – of Mother Russia’s enemies. Whether this accusation was true or not, the reality was that physical resemblances were astonishing. Aditionally, Alexander PETROV and Ruslan BOSHIROV were never seen together with Anatoly VLADIMIROVICH CHEPIGA and Alexander YEVGENIYEVICH MISHKINK.

It is also true that on December 19 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department issued an official statement([2]) sanctioning several people, some of them linked to GRU, including the names of Anatoly VLADIMIROVICH CHEPIGA (associated with the Ruslan BOSHIROV identity) and Alexander YEVGENIYEVICH MISHKIN (associated with the Alexander PETROV identity)… an official notification that seemed to confirm Bellingcat’s investigations.


[1] Gobierno UK. Septiembre 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-statement-on-the-salisbury-investigation-5-september-2018
[2] US Department of the Treasury. Notice of Intended Removals; Ukraine-/Russia-related Designations; Cyber-related Designations. Diciembre 2018. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20181219_33.aspx

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