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Investigative journalists link third Salisbury attack suspect to poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer

Meduza
Sergey Skripal’s home in Salisbury, England. The house is being dismantled by military teams, after his poisoning.
Sergey Skripal’s home in Salisbury, England. The house is being dismantled by military teams, after his poisoning.
Andrey Matthews / PA Wire / PA Images / Scanpix / LETA

Investigative journalists at The Insider and Bellingcat have released another joint report this time about a third suspect in the March 2018 nerve-agent attack on former Russian military intelligence (GRU) agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. The evidence reportedly points to a man named “Sergey Fedotov” who apparently works for Russian intelligence. Several years before the Salisbury incident, Fedotov allegedly tried to poison Bulgarian arms dealer Emelyan Gebrev using a Novichok-class nerve agent.

The St. Petersburg news outlet Fontanka first reported Fedotov’s name in October 2018. On February 6, 2019, The Telegraph’s sources confirmed his involvement in the Salisbury attack. The Insider and Bellingcat say “Sergey Fedotov” is a cover name, and his invented patronymic is “Vyacheslavovich.”

The journalists say Fedotov received his agent identity in 2010, like the two known Salisbury attack suspects, “Alexander Petrov” and “Ruslan Boshirov,” whom The Insider and Bellingcat say are really GRU officers Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, respectively. Fedotov then traveled extensively throughout Europe and Central Asia. According to Fontanka, he was in Prague in 2014 at the same time as Chepiga and Mishkin, and in London in 2018, when the Skripals were poisoned. The Telegraph’s sources also claim that Fedotov was in Great Britain on the day of the nerve-agent attack. He had a plane ticket to leave the country on the same flight as Chepiga and Mishkin, but for some reason he never boarded the aircraft.

According to The Insider and Bellingcat, Fedotov also traveled to Bulgaria in either 2014 or 2015 (the investigation shows different dates). On April 24, he arrived from Moscow in the resort city of Burgas with a return ticket for April 30. By the evening of April 28, however, Fedotov was already in Istanbul, where he purchased a plane ticket back to Moscow. Earlier that day, Bulgarian arms dealer Emelyan Gebrev was suddenly hospitalized in the city of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, collapsing at a reception. At roughly the same time, Gebrev’s son and one of his company’s top executives also fell ill.

All three men were taken to the hospital with severe poisoning symptoms. The University of Helsinki Laboratory, which specializes in chemical weapons, detected traces of two organophosphates in Gebrev’s blood, suggesting that someone tried to kill him with a Novichok-class nerve agent, The Insider and Bellingcat say. It’s unclear if the same substances were found in samples from the two other patients.

A month later, Emelyan Gebrev regained consciousness and his condition started improving. In May, however, he began getting sick again. The Insider and Bellingcat say this turn for the worse coincided with another Fedotov visit to Bulgaria. The suspected Russian intelligence agent arrived in the country for three days and once again changed his return itinerary at the last minute.

Gebrev survived the poisoning. He told The Insider and Bellingcat that there are two reasons he might be a target for the GRU: (1) his company has supplied arms to Ukraine, and (2) Russia might “have designs” on his weapons factory.

Summary by Olga Korelina

Translation by Kevin Rothrock