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Who is the Third Russian Charged over Salisbury Poisonings?

Scotland Yard has charged a third suspect, Denis Sergeev for his alleged involvement in the 2018 Salisbury poisonings through Novichok nerve agent. According to reports, the attack was targeted at a former Russian army officer and a British Intelligence double-agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia Skripal on 4th March 2018 in Salisbury, UK. The two victims were hospitalized for weeks in critical condition before being discharged. One police officer was also badly injured and got admitted into the intensive care unit (ICU). On the other hand, one non-target, Dawn Sturgess that came in contact with the agent could not survive.

Security officials alleged that the third suspect was also involved with the Russian military espionage unit, GRU to carry out this attack. Two previously charged individuals were named Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin.

The UK Alleges Russia’s Involvement in Salisbury Poisonings

Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May accused Chepiga and Mishkin of being a part of GRU in 2018 but Scotland Yard had just implicated all three suspects as a part of Russia’s intelligence network that carried out Salisbury poisonings.

These three were believed to be in Russia while the UK continued to demand extradition. Russia repeatedly refused to extradite its citizens despite the charges as it happened with the death of an ex-KGB defector living in the UK, Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Recently on 21 Sept 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stated that two Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun killed Litvinenko perhaps on the direct orders of President Vladimir Putin. The court’s findings were in line with the claim of a UK public inquiry in 2016.

UK’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel warned Russia that if the suspects ever leave Russia, the British will take every necessary action to detain them. The British have authorized charges on the suspects but cannot formally place charges until it arrests them.

Third Suspect Leading the Attack Team

According to the police report, Denis Sergeev is one of the senior members of the GRU spy team and came to London Heathrow with his hitmen on 2nd March 2018. Reportedly, Sergeev was using the alias Sergey Fedotov at that time of Salisbury poisonings. The other two suspects were using Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov as their aliases and arrived at Gatwick Airport, later that day.

Chepiga and Mishkin reportedly coated the doorknob of Sergei Skripal’s house with Novichok. Sergeev allegedly stayed in London and left for Moscow on 4 March 2018. The other two men also left on the same day but a different flight. Police found traces of Novichok at the hotel where Chepiga and Mishkin stayed but Sergeev’s place was clean. However, the police said that they had sufficient evidence that all three were operating as a team and met few times in London during their stay.

Team’s Role in Other Attacks across Europe

According to reports, Denis Sergeev joined the GRU team after serving in the Russian special forces. His team reportedly handled tasks related to sabotage, subversion, and assassination. Many reports have been coming from Europe about similar kinds of attacks by Sergeev or any GRU team.

In April 2015, Bulgaria reported that Sergeev and two other men checked into the hotel in Sofia and insisted on having a room with a view of the underground car park. The CCTV footage of that car park allegedly showed a man approaching some vehicles that belonged to arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, his son, and his business partner. Then the suspicious man coated the car door handles with the substance just like what happened in Salisbury poisonings. The victims fell sick but did not die. The man in the CCTV was believed to be Sergeev who left on the same day even though his return flight was two days ahead.

Moreover, Chepiga and Mishkin have also been reported to cause trouble together in the Czech Republic. Reportedly in 2014, the two men using the same aliases – Petrov and Boshirov blasted ammunition storage belonging to the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in a forest. The blast also killed two elder men working at the site. Initially, the blast was considered an accident but later the Czech Republic accused the Russian government of orchestrating the attack and expelled 18 Russian diplomats.

It led to the beginning of investigative work against Russia and tracking the movements of Sergeev and his team. The third suspect is believed to be traveling between Spain, Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, and some other EU countries. He was allegedly in contact with other GRU members throughout and also linked with planned Montenegro Coup de tat in 2016.