The Novichok hitman has been spotted in a photograph at his former military academy, it was reported yesterday, providing yet more evidence he was a GRU colonel who received Russia’s highest award from President Putin.
The image, said to be of suspect Anatoliy Chepiga, seems to disprove Kremlin denials that he was a senior agent who was made a Hero of Russia during a secret ceremony in 2014.
Chepiga, 39, was believed to be using the name Ruslan Boshirov when he and accomplice, identified under another alias, ‘Alexander Petrov’, poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March.
This new photograph of Salisbury poisoning suspect of Anatoliy Chepiga (left) seems to match existing images of ‘Ruslan Boshirov’ – the pseudonym Chepiga used when he appeared on RT in September (right). This would provide more evidence against the Kremlin’s denials
Chepiga, 39, was believed to be using the name Ruslan Boshirov when he and accomplice, identified under another alias, ‘Alexander Petrov’, poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March. The two men are seen on CCTV at Salisbury railway station
The new picture was uncovered by journalists at a Prague-based radio station trawled through hundreds of photos from a wall of heroes at the Far-Eastern Military Academy, which Chepiga graduated from in 2001.
‘From various photographs it could be seen that the wall is decorated with portraits of alumni who have received the Hero of the Russian Federation award,’ reported the Britain-based Bellingcat website, which has led revelations on the story .
A portrait resembling Chepiga on the far end of the wall had already been pictured several times, but previously it had not been of sufficient high revolution to establish a conclusive match.
Now a new image has emerged showing ‘the face and name of Col. Chepiga with sufficient quality to make identification possible,’ Bellingcat said. The site claims this matches existing photos of Chepiga, including CCTV stills from Salisbury.
It concluded: ‘This new photo, seen against the backdrop of a mountain of additional evidence, will present a fresh challenge to Russian authorities who can no longer credibly deny — or even equivocate — that it was Colonel Chepiga who, in his own words, travelled to and back from Salisbury, and that he was furthermore the recipient of the Hero of the Russian Federation award, traditionally presented by the Russian president himself.’
Putin’s official spokesman has denied both that Chepiga and Boshirov are one man and that anyone with the spy’s name was ever made a Hero of Russia.
In a separate new revelation, it has been alleged that Chepiga helped spring toppled Ukrainian pro-Putin president Viktor Yanukovych to safety during the 2014 revolution in Kiev, the possible reason for him being made a Hero of Russia.
Russian journalist Sergey Kanev of the Dose [Dossier] Centre also claimed Chepiga’s wife Galina, with whom he shares two children, had also worked as an undercover agent. Kanev fled Russia before making his claims and is now ‘safe’ abroad.
Chepiga is said to appear in this photo (circled) with a group of fellow military graduates in Chechnya
Investigative website Bellingcat found Col Chepiga’s passport photo from 2003 (left) and saw it bore a similarity to ‘Ruslan Boshirov’s’ passport photo from 2009 (middle) and the one on his cover passport (right)
Yanukovych was spirited out of Ukraine in 2014 as protesters took hold of capital city Kiev.
The fallen president – renowned for his gargantuan corruption – claimed he was shot at as he fled. He was smuggled to Crimea and now lives under close guard in Russia.
“Chepiga-Boshirov took part in the evacuation of Yanukovych to Russia – at least my sources claim so,” wrote Kanev.
“He and his special forces unit arrived at the Yanukovych residence in Mezhyhirya (near Kiev). He was there, guarding (Yanukovych). They transported him from there to Crimea and further to Russia.”
One theory is that he was taken to safety by a Russian submarine.
The operation was led by former Putin bodyguard Alexey Dyumin, now governor of Tula region.
Dyumin is being groomed by Putin as his choice as his Kremlin successor, claim some experts.
Putin is known to have taken an exceptionally close interest in the operation to spring Yanukovych which – combined with the medal award – would suggest he knew of Chepiga at first hand.
Soon after Yanukovych was taken to Russia, Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine sparking outrage in the West.
Boshirov travelled to Salisbury with another Russian Alexander Petrov in March 2018, on the day when Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned.
Meanwhile, Chepiga’s wife is said to have worked as a “freelance” in a detachment “of special purpose” of Khabarovsk region. The military unit was 20662.
Chepiga was also attached to the same military unit where his wife allegedly worked undercover.
Later both were traced to an address in Moscow listed in a student hostel of the Russian State University for Humanities on Kirovogradskaya Street.
Yanukovych’s lawyer denied Chepiga has played a role in his rescue.
Vitaly Serdyuk said: “Assistance in the flight to Crimea of Viktor Yanukovych was provided by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, and not by the well-known citizens Boshirov and Petrov, who with one stroke of the journalistic pen appeared in this story.”
The Russian authorities have sought to dismiss a spate of claims from Britain and various opposition media groups in Moscow which suggest Boshirov was an alias for a highly-regarded GRU agent.
Chepiga, posing as Boshirov, (left) was captured on CCTV laughing with Alexander Petrov shortly after the attack on March 4
Putin’s lies over the Salibury poisoning were exposed by Bellingcat when it named Colonel Chepiga on September 26.
Only a few weeks before, Vladimir Putin went on television to claim that two suspects captured on CCTV were civilians and not GRU military intelligence officers.
The Kremlin was branded shameful for claiming Chepiga and his unknown accomplice, who used the alias Alexander Petrov, were holidaymakers.
Boris Johnson tweeted: ‘Utterly predictable news that GRU is behind Skripal atrocity.’
The former foreign secretary added: ‘What have you got to say, Putin?’
The two Russian agents were charged over the poisonings by the Crown Prosecution Service earlier this month.
But they later appeared on Russian TV to insist they were visiting Salisbury for its cathedral.
As the bungled attack that left one dead and three seriously ill took another twist: It emerged that Chepiga fought for a feared Spetsnaz unit for 17 years and worked undercover for at least nine.
This undated image is alleged to show Chepiga (circled) posing with fellow members of the Russian military
Bellingcat obtained passport files Col Chepiga which included his address and date of birth
Theresa May attacks Putin at the UN for his ‘desperate fabrication’ over the Salisbury spy poisoning
The Prime Minister attacked Russia for its ‘desperate fabrication’ over the Salisbury spy poisoning as she addressed world leaders in New York in September.
Britain has set out detailed evidence about the prime suspects in the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia while Russia has only sought to ‘obfuscate’, she said.
Theresa May lambasted Russia for its ‘desperate fabrication’ over the Salisbury poisoning while addressing the General Assembly of the UN on Wednesday
Mrs May told the United Nations Security Council: ‘We have taken appropriate action, with our allies, and we will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure our collective security. Russia has only sought to obfuscate through desperate fabrication.’
Mrs May called on Russia to rejoin the international consensus against the use of chemical weapons and said there should be no doubt of the international community’s determination to take action if it did not.
She said: ‘We cannot let the framework be undermined today by those who reject the values and disregard the rules that have kept us safe.
‘It will take collective engagement to reinforce it in the face of today’s challenges. And in this, as has always been the case, the UK will play a leading role.’
Sources said the soldier’s high rank – the same as his intended victim, Colonel Sergei Skripal – suggested the attack was sanctioned at the highest level.
Senior politicians queued up to accuse the Russians of being ‘seriously dishonest’ and lying about their complicity.
The identity of Chepiga was uncovered by investigative organisation Bellingcat, best known for its insight into the fighting in Ukraine.
It found that Chepiga has won more than 20 awards and a Hero of the Russian Federation medal during his illustrious military career.
Born in the isolated village of Nikolayevka, on the Russian-Chinese border in 1979, he is married with a teenage son.
In 2001 he graduated from the Far-Eastern Military Command Academy before being deployed to Chechnya three times.
Its website states: ‘Anatoly Vladimirovich Chepiga was awarded the honorary title of Hero of the Russian Federation by order of the president of the Russian Federation.’
His name appears under a gold star honour list on a monument to academy alumni at a base near the Chinese border.
This undated image shows Sergei Skripal (right) and his daughter Yulia eating at a restaurant
Dawn Sturgess (left) died after spraying Novichok on her wrists thinking it was a perfume. Her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, (right) fell critically ill but recovered. Both photos are undated
Now looking even more shaky… The ‘farcical’ RT interview that saw the would-be assassins claim they were innocent civilians
Revelations about the military background of Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga make the interview he gave to RT in September alongside the second suspected assassin Alexander Petrov appear even more farcical.
Observers quickly pointed out a number of gaping holes in their story, including:
The ‘accidental’ visit to Skripal’s home
CCTV released by police places the two suspects at Sergei Skripal’s suburban house.
Today the men admitted they may have ended up there – but claimed it was an accident.
The property, which had Novichok smeared on the door, is 25 minutes away from the city centre and its cathedral – which the men said they were there to see.
Ruslan Boshirov said: ‘Maybe we passed it, or maybe we didn’t. I’d never heard about them before this nightmare started. I’d never heard this name before. I didn’t know anything about them’.
The hotel 127 miles from Salisbury
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were guests at the City Stay Hotel in Bow, East London, before poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed today that ‘low’ levels of the nerve agent were found in the two-star £48 a night hotel in May.
The men chose a spot some distance from Waterloo – the main rail route to Salisbury – despite making the Wiltshire city the focus of their visit.
It is 127 miles from Salisbury.
The ‘bad’ weather
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov claimed that they only stayed in Salisbury because of heavy snow.
The pair visited days after the Beast from the East hit Britain bringing unseasonably cold weather.
Describing the condition Boshirov said: ‘It was impossible to get anywhere because of the snow. We were drenched up to our knees’.
But CCTV pictures of the men shows the pavements were largely clear of snow.
They also told RT that it snowed in the city that afternoon, but weather maps from that day show sunshine and clear skies.
The missing luggage
The men went straight from Salisbury to Heathrow for the evening flight.
But CCTV suggested that they did not have any luggage with them on their way home.
The medals are normally awarded by the president personally, and are given only to a handful of people each year.
Unlike most recipients there is little public information about Chepiga’s life and official documents are marked ‘top secret’.
The secretive nature of the award, combined with its timing in 2014, suggests it was for actions in Ukraine. His Spetsnaz unit was pictured on the eastern Ukraine border.
Investigators also found documents that trace Chepiga’s movements around Russia and Europe.
He pops up at a remote military unit and in Moscow where he is likely to have studied at the Military Diplomatic Academy, or ‘GRU Conservatory’.
The GRU was betrayed by Mr Skripal before he was jailed and sent to the UK in a spy swap. He and his daughter were poisoned in March in Salisbury.
Chepiga and Petrov are also accused of murdering Dawn Sturgess, who was inadvertently poisoned when she discovered a perfume bottle filled with the deadly novichok nerve agent used on the Skripals.
Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: ‘It is confirmation of what we have known for a long time – that Russia is serially dishonest in its foreign affairs and has again lied about its complicity.
‘These guys are amateurs. Their cover couldn’t even survive investigation by newspapers.’
The two Russian agents on Fisherton Road in Salisbury around the time of the attack in March
This map shows the progress of the spies’ assassination plot, as police managed to piece together using CCTV
A timeline of the key developments in the Salisbury poisoning case
2010 – Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer jailed for spying for Britain, is released and flown to the UK as part of a swap with Russian agents caught in the United States. He settles in Salisbury.
March 3, 2018 – Yulia Skripal arrives at Heathrow Airport from Russia to visit her father in England.
March 4, 9.15am – Sergei Skripal’s burgundy BMW is seen in suburban Salisbury, near a cemetery, where his wife and son are commemorated.
March 4, 1.30pm – The BMW is seen driving toward central Salisbury.
March 4, 1.40pm – The BMW is parked at a lot in central Salisbury.
A police officer stands guard outside the Zizzi restaurant where Sergei and Yulia had lunch before they collapsed in a nearby park
March 4, afternoon – Sergei and Yulia Skripal visit the Bishops Mill pub.
March 4, 2.20pm to 3.35pm – Sergei and Yulia Skripal have lunch at the Zizzi restaurant.
March 4, 4.15pm – Emergency services are called by a passer-by concerned about a man and a woman in Salisbury city centre.
Officers find the Skripals unconscious on a bench. They are taken to Salisbury District Hospital, where they remain in critical condition.
March 5, morning – Police say two people in Salisbury are being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was among the first police officers on the scene and was himself hospitalised
March 5, afternoon – Wiltshire Police, along with Public Health England, declare a ‘major incident’
March 7 – Police announce that the Skripals were likely poisoned with a nerve agent in a targeted murder attempt.
They disclose that a police officer who responded to the incident is in serious condition in a hospital.
March 8 – Home Secretary Amber Rudd describes the use of a nerve agent on UK soil was a ‘brazen and reckless act’ of attempted murder
March 9 – About 180 troops trained in chemical warfare and decontamination are deployed to Salisbury to help with the police investigation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow might be willing to assist with the investigation but expresses resentment at suggestions the Kremlin was behind the attack.
March 11 – Public health officials tell people who visited the Zizzi restaurant or Bishops Mill pub in Salisbury on the day of the attack or the next day to wash their clothes as a precaution.
March 12, morning– Prime Minister Theresa May tells the House of Commons that the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
March 12, afternoon – Public Health England ask everyone who visited Salisbury town centre on the day of the attack to wash all of their clothes and belongings.
Officers wearing chemical protection suits secure the forensic tent over the bench where Sergei and Yulia fell ill
March 14 – The PM announces the expulsion of 23 suspected Russian spies from the country’s UK Embassy.
March 22 – Nick Bailey, the police officer injured in the attack, is released from hospital.
March 26 – The United States and 22 other countries join Britain in expelling scores of Russian spies from capitals across the globe.
March 29 – Doctors say Yulia Skripal is ‘improving rapidly’ in hospital.
‘Unknown time in the spring’ – Dutch authorities expelled two suspected Russian spies who tried to hack into a Swiss laboratory
April 3 – The chief of the Porton Down defence laboratory said it could not verify the ‘precise source’ of the nerve agent.
April 5, morning – Yulia Skripal’s cousin Viktoria says she has received a call from Yulia saying she plans to leave hospital soon.
Dawn Sturgess died in hospital on July 8
April 5, afternoon – A statement on behalf of Yulia is released by Metropolitan Police, in which she says her strength is ‘growing daily’ and that ‘daddy is fine’.
April 9 – Ms Skripal is released from hospital and moved to a secure location.
May 18 – Sergei Skripal is released from hospital 11 weeks after he was poisoned.
June 30 – Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fall ill at a property in Amesbury, which is eight miles from Salisbury, and are rushed to hospital.
July 4 – Police declare a major incident after Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley are exposed to an ‘unknown substance’, later revealed to be Novichok.
July 5 – Sajid Javid demands an explanation over the two poisonings as he accuses the Russian state of using Britain as a ‘dumping ground for poison’.
July 8 – Mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, 44, dies in hospital due to coming into contact with Novichok.
July 10 – Mr Rowley regains consciousness at hospital, and later tells his brother that Dawn had sprayed the Novichok onto her wrists.
July 19 – Police are believed to have identified the perpetrators of the attack.
August 20 – Charlie Rowley is rushed to hospital as he starts to lose his site, but doctors can’t confirm whether it has anything to do with the poisoning.
August 26 – Charlie Rowley admitted to intensive care unit with meningitis
August 28 – Police call in the ‘super recognisers’ in bid to track down the poisoners
September 4 – Charlie Rowley’s brother says he has ‘lost all hope’ and doesn’t have long to live.
Independent investigators, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, confirm the toxic chemical that killed Ms Sturgess was the same nerve agent as that which poisoned the Skripals.
September 5 – Scotland Yard and CPS announce enough evidence to charge Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov for conspiracy to murder over Salisbury nerve agent attack.
September 13 – Britain’s most wanted men speak to RT and claim to be humble tourists
September 26 – The real identity of one of the two assassins, named by police as Ruslan Boshirov, is reported to be Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga.
October 3: New photo emerges that appears to show Col Chepiga on the Wall of Heroes at the Far-Eastern Military Academy, providing more evidence against the Kremlin’s denials.