On September 26, the open-source intelligence organization Bellingcat, in conjunction with the Russian independent news outlet The Insider, revealed the real identity of one of the suspects in the Salisbury poisoning case. The latest in a three-part investigation Bellingcat/Insider found that suspect “Ruslan Boshirov” is in fact Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated ex-special forces operator and now a colonel in the GRU (intelligence agency of the Russian Defense Ministry). Previous releases in the investigation looked at the two suspects’ passport files and found numerous clues tying them to the Defense Ministry.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote a post on her Facebook page claiming that the news about the suspects was fake, and that British authorities had no evidence of Russian involvement in the Salisbury poisoning incident, which left several people hospitalized, three of them in critical condition and one dead.
In reality, the case for Russian involvement in the Salisbury poisoning incident is quite strong. The OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) confirmed that the substance used to poison the first victims, ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia, was in fact Novichok, a chemical warfare agent developed by Russia. The chemical had been smeared on the doorknob of Skripal’s front door, and CCTV footage showed the two suspects in the area. Traces of the same chemical were also found in the hotel room booked by the two suspects. The perfume bottle which held the chemical was also recovered.
After being identified by British authorities, the two suspects appeared on Russian state TV and said they were only tourists working in the fitness and supplements industry. However, their story contained a number of significant inconsistencies and inaccuracies.
Since Bellingcat revealed one of the suspect’s true identity, the Russian newspaper Kommersant managed to make contact with some of his former acquaintances, who confirmed that he worked in the “secret service” and had served in “hot spots.”
On September 27, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Putin had been told "Boshirov" and his suspected accomplice "Alexander Petrov" were only civilians.
“The president said these people were civilians,” Peskov said. “This means he voiced information that had been reported to him.”
It is important to note that the most recent Bellingcat revelation includes the fact that Chepiga was awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation, the highest award in the country. This medal is given personally by the president of the Russian Federation, i.e. Vladimir Putin. Chepiga’s name also appears on a monument to Heroes of the Soviet Union and Heroes of the Russian Federation erected at the campus of "Boshirov's" alma-mater -- the far East Military Command School. This means if Bellingcat and Insider were wrong, it would be extremely easy to prove.
Contrary to Ms. Zakharova’s claims that British authorities have presented no evidence of Russian involvement, thanks to Bellingcat and Russian investigative journalists, the evidence is piling up.