The former commander of the Russian assassin accused of carrying out the Salisbury novichok attack has admitted he was military trained, but not for spy missions.
The Kremlin’s media machine has gone into overdrive since investigators revealed one of the two Russians behind the attack is a Colonel Anatoly Chepiga – a high ranking GRU officer who was made a ‘Hero of Russia’ for missions in Chechnya and Ukraine.
Pictures released this week show Chepiga – who used the name ‘Ruslan Boshirov’ during his murder mission to Salisbury – with his military unit and in his younger years.
The Salisbury poisoning suspect previously known as Ruslan Boshirov (left) was this week identified as GRU colonel Anatoly Chepiga (pictured, circled, right, with his military unit)
Boshirov (left) has appeared on TV insisting he was only in Salisbury to visit the cathedral
‘Boshirov’ previously appeared on TV claiming he and his partner Alexander Petrov were merely nutritional supplement salesmen visiting Salisbury to see the city’s ‘123 -metre’ cathedral spire.
As Putin’s regime continues to refute the claims it was behind the attack, Chepiga’s former commander commented on the case today.
Alexander Borzhko claimed he worked with Chepiga when he was cadet and he wasn’t prepared for overseas assassinations.
He told Russia’s RIA news agency: ‘In 2001, I released a cadet named Chepiga… the military officers were trained in the BTWC [Eastern Military Command College] to carry out combat missions, Chepiga really fought in Chechnya, but he was not prepared for the agency activities.’
He accused the British of ‘schizophrenia’ over the Skripal case, and joked that he would need ‘plastic surgery’ if he was to be added to the suspect list.
His comments came as Putin’s spokesman also attempted to pour cold water on reports of Boshirov’s true identity.
Online investigations group Bellingcat published pictures of Chepiga in younger life. His former military instructor Alexander Borzhko (right) says the unit only trained for combat
Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov today attempted to undermine the latest reports
Peskov compare the likeness between Chepiga and ‘Boshirov’ to Lenin and Stalin impersonators in Red Square (pictured in file photo)
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: ‘We don’t know to what extent we can make any formal conclusions about who looks like whom, are they alike, where they lived, where they grew up.
‘On Red Square there are still 10 Stalins and 15 Lenins running around, and they look remarkably like the originals,’ he added, referring to people who dress up as Soviet leaders to pose for photographs with tourists.
UK authorities believe two Russians, using the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, smeared the highly toxic Novichok chemical on a door handle at the Wiltshire home of former GRU officer Mr Skripal on March 4.
The attack left Mr Skripal and his daughter critically ill, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, who was later exposed to the same nerve agent, died in July.
On Wednesday, the investigative group Bellingcat identified one of the suspects as Chepiga.
The man using the name Boshirov and his partner ‘Alexander Petrov’ were seen on CCTV walking to and from Sergei Skripal’s house on the day the former spy was poisoned
Bellingcat said it had identified Chepiga, who travelled to the UK with a passport issued in the assumed name of Ruslan Boshirov, by trawling through online records from Russian military academies.
British officials allege the attack on the Skripals received approval ‘at a senior level of the Russian state,’ an accusation Moscow has fiercely denied.
After ‘Boshirov’ and his accomplice, ‘Alexander Petrov’, were charged this month, Putin said they were civilians.
The pair then appeared on Russia’s state-funded RT channel, saying they visited Salisbury as tourists and had nothing to do with the poisoning.
Sergei Skripal’s niece fears she has been the victim of an assassination attempt after a wheel flew off her car on a motorway
The niece of poisoned Sergei Skripal fears she was the subject of an assassination bid when the front left wheel spun off her car as she and her husband drove to Moscow this week.
Viktoria Spripal spoke today of a ‘serious crash’ as she was driving to take part in a TV programme on the two men who allegedly planted nerve agent novichok on her uncle.
Their Chevrolet crashed into the barrier on the highway on Wednesday, she said.
Viktoria Skripal’s Chevrolet was pictured after being severely damaged when it hit the central reservation of a Russian motorway on Wednesday
‘I think it could have been an assassination attempt,’ she told Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.
‘My husband checked wheel balancing, wheels and suspension in a service one week ago when I was last going to a TV show in Moscow.
‘After that the car was parked in its usual place, in the yard of our block of flats. There are no cameras around.’
Viktoria claimed the crash could be linked to her criticisms of Western claims that the GRU military intelligence service was behind the poisoning of her uncle, according to Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.
Viktoria Spripal was on her way to take part in a TV programme about her uncle’s poisoning in Salisbury earlier this year