‘Yeah it's the GRU HQ — so what?’ Funny passport numbers link a whole web of suspected Russian intelligence operatives
On September 20, the open-source investigative team Bellingcat and the news website The Insider published the second part of their report on Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the suspected Russian intelligence officers accused by Great Britain of trying to assassinate former double agent Sergey Skripal with a nerve agent in Salisbury. Both Petrov and Boshirov say they were in Salisbury at the time of the poisoning merely as tourists. According to data released by Bellingcat and The Insider, the two men’s passport numbers differ only slightly from each other and from other suspected GRU agents, suggesting that the documents were issued in a special series. Now a news outlet in St. Petersburg has published evidence that the passport numbers tie the Salisbury suspects to a wider web of suspected GRU agents.
The Bellingcat/Insider report highlights the case of Eduard Shirokov (Shishmakov), whom Montenegro accuses of trying to orchestrate a coup in 2016. According to The Insider, “[Petrov and Boshirov] had passport numbers ending in 294 and 297, while another previously exposed GRU agent, Eduard Shirokov (Shishmakov), had a passport ending in 323, meaning that their passport numbers were separated by just 25 and 28 slots, respectively.”
Using the passport information published by Bellingcat and The Insider, the St.-Petersburg-based news website Fontanka searched various databases for people whose passports were likely issued by the same branch of Russia’s Federal Migration Service, both before and after Petrov and Boshirov received their documents. On September 22, Fontanka published the results of its study, revealing that some of these individuals indicated on different documents that their home address was 76B Khoroshevskoe Highway, which is located just around the corner from the GRU’s Moscow headquarters.
According to Fontanka, the building at 76B Khoroshevskoe Highway belongs directly to the GRU, while Russia’s Unified State Registrar of Legal Entities says it’s home to several military units, including Branch Number 45807, whose commanding officer is Igor Korobov, the head of the GRU. According to federal law, Russian soldiers can register their documents at the address of their military unit.
The address “76B Khoroshevskoe Highway” also appears in court records for traffic fines issued to men with the surnames Krymsky and Andreev, whose passport numbers differ from Borishirov’s and Petrov’s by just a single digit. Fontanka says it learned that Andreev, like Eduard Shirokov, flew to Belgrade in the fall of 2016 (weeks before Montenegro announced that it had foiled an attempted coup). Travel records indicate that Andreev was accompanied by another man named Potemkin, who also indicated the GRU’s address in documents when buying real estate outside Moscow and a car.
Additionally, Fontanka managed to reach a man named Alexander Polyakov, whose passport number falls within the range apparently used by the GRU, and who also listed 76B Khoroshevskoe Highway as his address on multiple documents. Here are a few excerpts from Fontanka’s telephone interview with Polyakov:
“Mr. Polyakov, do you work in intelligence?”
“Huh? Are you out of your mind or something? [...]”
“But you listed Khoroshevskoe Highway as your place of residence?”
“At one point, yes.”
“But this is the headquarters of the GRU.”
“Yeah, so what? I’ve been retired for a long time now. Just look at my age. I was born in 1961. [...]”
“You have a passport of the 65th series, issued in 2016. The number is very close to Boshirov’s and Petrov’s. Did you personally file your passport application at the Federal Migration Service office in Moscow’s Northern Administrative District?”
“Yes, of course. I went in, filed the application, and got my passport. I did it on my own, like any ordinary citizen.”
“How do you explain why your passport number is so close to the numbers issued to other people who previously listed 76B Khoroshevskoe Highway as their place of residence?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
Fontanka also asked Polyakov if he’s familiar with a man named Kukharuk, who was issued “an identical passport” (the website offers no additional details about this passport). After a pause, Polyakov told the website that he doesn’t know anyone by that name, before saying, “And what’s next? What’s this got to do with me? These are some strange questions. I’m an ordinary citizen, I haven’t done anything, but you’re putting me in a position where I have to justify myself.” The Insider says it believes Fontanka’s report confirms its findings.