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GRU colonel, Hero of Russia, Chechen War vet Journalists say they've figured out who ‘Ruslan Boshirov’ really is
The cathedral-obsessed, possibly gay fitness instructor “Ruslan Boshirov” is an invention by Russia’s Military Intelligence Directorate — a fake identity given to GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, according to the third investigative report by Bellingcat and The Insider about the two Russian men identified by the British authorities as the likely culprits behind the attempted murder of Sergey and Yulia Skripal in March (as well as the apparently accidental homicide of British citizen Dawn Sturgess). Chepiga was reportedly born on April 5, 1979, in the Amur region. He graduated from the Far Eastern Military Command Academy and then enlisted in the GRU’s 14th Spetsnaz Brigade in Khabarovsk, serving three tours of duty in Chechnya. In December 2014, Vladimir Putin allegedly gave Chepiga the country’s highest state award: the Hero of the Russian Federation medal. Bellingcat and The Insider believe this was likely for “heroism” in covert military operations in eastern Ukraine. Chepiga got his “Ruslan Boshirov” alter ego after moving to Moscow, where he trained at the the Military Diplomatic Academy, also known as the “GRU Conservatory,” Bellingcat says.
Bellingcat began its work with only the two targets’ photographs and their cover identities, before a “deductive search” led them to a school photo of Chepiga in Chechnya. The researchers made and then tested a series of assumptions, guessing that “the two suspects were GRU officers with a focus on West European covert operations.” “[K]nowing their approximate age, we contacted former Russian military officers to inquire what specialized schools would have provided appropriate training,” Bellingcat says. This led the team to the Far Eastern Military Command Academy, and a yearbook photo that included a photograph of someone resembling Boshirov near text referring to graduates who’d received the Hero of Russia Award. Armed with this information, online searches dug up “a certain Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga.” Leaked Russian telephone databases tie this individual to the address of the GRU’s 14th Brigade in Khabarovsk.
At this point, the research veers from open-source intelligence to leaked information, as Bellingcat and The Insider “obtained extracts from the passport file of Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga” in order to validate the hypothesis about him being “Boshirov.” In his 2003 passport photo, it turns out, Chepiga is a dead ringer for the photos of “Boshirov” circulated by the British authorities. Chepiga’s 2003 place of residence, moreover, identifies the same Khabarovsk military unit found in the telephone records.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the information about Boshirov’s real name is “fake news.” Pointing out that the investigative report was published immediately after Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech at the UN Security Council about Moscow’s role in the Salisbury attack, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that Bellingcat is working with the British government. “There’s no evidence [of Russian involvement in the attack], so accordingly they’re keeping up the information campaign, with the main goal of diverting attention from the main question: what happened in Salisbury?” Zakharova wrote on Facebook.
Personal documents issued to “Ruslan Boshirov” were already circulating in the media. On September 15, the website Proekt revealed that it had acquired a file containing his photograph from the “Russian Passport” system. The documents indicated that “Boshirov” received the passport in October 2010, due to the “ineligibility” of his old passport. Bellingcat and The Insider wrote that “Boshirov” (like the other Salisbury suspect, “Alexander Petrov”) received his passport at Federal Migration Service Unit 770001, which reportedly serves only “state VIPs and intelligence officers.” The biographical paperwork for “Boshirov” and “Petrov” was mostly blank and stamped with the words “do not provide information” and a telephone number that journalists later traced to a GRU building in Moscow.
Funny passport numbers link a whole web of suspected Russian intelligence operatives. Investigative work has also highlighted 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.” Bellingcat argues that these are all “cover passports” issued “under the same, restricted procedure, and in the same batch of sequence numbers.”
Russia’s Federal Security Service is reportedly trying to hunt down the Interior Ministry staff members who “sold off” passport and identification documents belonging to “Petrov” and “Boshirov.” A source told the news agency Rosbalt that “serious measures” are planned against whomever was responsible for leaking the two suspects’ personal information. The source insists that the FSB’s manhunt doesn’t acknowledge that the leaked passport data led to any “revelations,” saying that it’s a simple matter of enforcing laws meant to protect personal information from criminals and foreign adversaries. Robalt’s source cited Mirotvorets as an example of a hostile foreign entity that might utilize such data.
Roman Dobrokhotov, the chief editor of The Insider, says he doesn’t know how Bellingcat acquired the personal files on “Boshirov” and “Petrov,” and insists that he’s broken no laws. Proekt meanwhile says it got the “Boshirov” photo and passport information in a package delivered to its newsroom. The publication has not specified who sent it.
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