The investigative group Bellingcat says it has identified one of the two suspects in the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy as a highly-decorated colonel of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.
United Kingdom authorities believe Chepiga and his accomplice smeared the highly toxic novichok chemical on a door handle at the Wiltshire home of former GRU officer Mr Skripal, leaving him and his daughter critically ill.
If true, the investigation proves conclusively Putin was lying when he said this month that the two men were "civilians" with no connection to the Russian state.
Bellingcat obtained extracts from the passport file of Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga.
Two Russian men later appeared on the state-funded RT channel and made widely mocked claims that they only went to England in early March to visit the "wonderful town" of Salisbury and its famous cathedral.
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A regional branch of the paramilitary organization DOSAAF states on its website that Chepiga went on three tours in Chechnya while in the special forces, and was awarded the Hero of Russian Federation award in 2014.
Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal attends a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in Moscow on August 9, 2006.
The man named as Ruslan Boshirov (left) is said by The Bellingcat group to be Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga. It resembles a younger version of the photo of "Ruslan Boshirov" provided by British authorities.
He and the other suspect in the case, now still known as Alexander Petrov, were captured on CCTV in Salisbury on the day before and the day of the poisoning of the Skripals in March.
It had already been reported in Russian media that the passport numbers of the men are separated by only three digits (-1294 and -1297) meaning they were issued at nearly exactly the same time. CCTV released by police showed the two men in Salisbury close to Skripal's house on the day of the poisoning.
The Home Office is yet to comment on Bellingcat's reports.
In response to the Skripal poisoning, U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Woody Johnson said in a tweet earlier this month that the U.S. and Britain "stand firmly together in holding Russian Federation accountable for its act of aggression". A local man, Charlie Rowley later found a modified perfume bottle that police said concealed the nerve agent and which had been discarded by the assassins.
However, both of the suspects have previously denied having any involvement in the poisoning, saying they were tourists visiting Salisbury.
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