The bungling spies sent to Salisbury to poison Sergei Skripal were both personally given Russia’s highest honour by Vladimir Putin – and one was exposed by his own grandmother, it was revealed today.
Alexander Petrov has been named as Dr Alexander Mishkin, 39, the accomplice of GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, who went to Britain under the alias Ruslan Boshirov.
Mishkin’s grandmother has a picture of her grandson with Putin receiving his ‘Hero of Russia’ award and Gold Star medal in 2014 – but she has now mysteriously disappeared, Bellingcat has said.
Investigators travelled to his home village 400 miles from Moscow where family and neighbours confirmed his identity.
They said his elderly grandmother regularly shows off a ‘treasured’ picture of her grandson shaking hands with the Russian President – but said she vanished as his true identity was revealed.
Both spies had travelled to Salisbury on ‘perfect’ passports issued by the Russian state and visas issued after ‘pressure’ was allegedly placed on British embassy staff.
Yet the pair outed themselves because they gave their addresses as the GRU’s headquarters in Moscow.
Mishkin, whose Volvo XC90 is also registered at the spy building, even used his first name and real date of birth for his alias in a yet another embarrassment for Putin’s secret services.
Bellingcat revealed Dr Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin travelled to Salisbury under the alias Alexander Petrov
GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga travelled to Britain under the alias Ruslan Boshirov and both men outed themselves, investigators have said
Investigators have been to Mishkin’s home village 400 miles from Moscow (pictured), which has no paved roads and his grandmother who lives there has no vanished
The passport of Dr Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin. Dr Mishkin travelled to Salisbury with Anatoliy Chepiga and experts have used facial recognition software to confirm Mishkin is Petrov
Christo Grozev, from Bellingcat, told MPs that Alexander Mishkin was honoured by the Russian government in autumn 2014 for his work in Ukraine – the same year as Chepiga.
Belingcat founder Eliot Higgins outside Parliament today after briefing MPs about how they id’d the Salisbury poisoners
He said that their team of investigators went to Russia to Loyga in Arkhangelsk Oblast, where Mishkin’s own family came confirmed his identity.
He said: ‘He said that Alexander Mishkin was the person who went to the military school…and he received the award of the Hero of the Russian Federation personally from Vladimir Putin.
‘His grandmother has a photograph that has been seen by everyone in her village of President Putin shaking Mishkin’s hand and him the award.’
Chepiga was made Hero of the Russian Federation by decree of the president during a secret ceremony in the same year as his fellow assassin.
Mishkin grew up in the snowy Russian village of Loyga, a snowy part of North eastern Russia which is covered by a permafrost for 11 months of the year.
He and his partner in crime Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga both told the Russian state propaganda channel RT that they were in Britain because they wanted to visit Stonehenge, but they had to abandon their trip because of the snow and ‘muddy slush’.
But today Bellingcat revealed that Mishkin would have been very used to finding his way through the snow, which falls thickly in his home village.
Pointing to the picture of the home Mishkin grew up in, Mr Grozev said: ‘He was born in Loyga in 1979 in a mountainous region of Russia. A tiny, tiny village..
‘It is a village in the middle of nowhere, it I on marshland here is literally no road access to the rest of Russia.
‘We focused on the street where he grew up – this phot was taken yesterday. This is literally the street where he drew up. It is muddy and slushy – and that’s exactly what he said he cannot tolerate.
‘This is a village in Russia in permafrost and snow for about eleven and a half months of the year.’
The hitman who used the name ‘Boshirov’ has already been revealed as Col Anatoly Chepiga
CCTV image of Russian nationals Dr Alexander Mishkin (right) and Anatoliy Chepiga (left), pictured in Salisbury grinning after bungling their mission
Today journalists from Bellingcat appeared in Parliament to reveal how they found out their identities.
Amid a series of embarrassing failures President Putin personally gave a dressing down to the head of Russian spy agency GRU over ‘deep incompetence’ shown in the Salisbury poisonings and other international operations, it emerged today.
GRU chief Col-Gen Igor Korobov, 62, reportedly emerged shaken and in sudden ‘ill health’ after his confrontation with the furious Russian president.
Korobov’s telling off came as the second Salisbury suspect was named as a GRU doctor, who gave himself away by using his first name and real date of birth on his fake identity passport.
Dr Alexander Mishkin’s false identification papers also listed GRU headquarters in Moscow as his home address.
The identification of the novichok poisoning spook came as Russian Defence Ministry officials reportedly met with senior GRU staff to blast them over the agency’s recent foreign operations.
The secret meeting on Saturday reportedly heard furious accusations over the ‘morons’ behind missions in Britain, the Netherlands and the US.
Those in charge of the catastrophic blunders were denounced for their ‘deep incompetence’ and ‘infinite carelessness’.
They were taunted: ‘Why didn’t you just wear Budenovka hats?’ referring to the hats emblazoned with the Red star which were part of the Communist military uniform after the Russian Revolution.
Yesterday, investigative website Bellingcat, who also outed the first Salisbury suspect Ruslan Boshirov as Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, revealed the true identity of the second suspect.
Fuming: President Vladimir Putin is said to be fuming over the way his spy agency have been handling foreign operations, including the novichok poisoning in the UK
Alexander Petrov (pictured right) has now been revealed as Dr Alexander Mishkin. Ruslan Boshirov (pictured left) was revealed two weeks ago as Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga
Telling off: The head of GRU, Col-Gen Igor Korobov, 62, reportedly emerged shaken and in sudden ‘ill health’ after being given a dressing down by the President himself
Russian documents including and facial recognition experts have been used to confirm that Alexander Petrov is actually Dr Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin, a trained military doctor in the GRU intelligence services.
Bungling Dr Mishkin even used his own birth date and first names of his parents as part of his undercover identity as Alexander Petrov, and registered his home address as Khoroshevskoe Shosse 76B in Moscow – the headquarters of Putin’s elite military intelligence services.
Dr Mishkin was born in northern European Russia and graduated from the elite Military Medical Academies.
He trained as a doctor for the Russian naval armed forces before being recruited by GRU, moving to Moscow in 2010, and assuming his undercover identity of Alexander Petrov.
Mishkin is said to have travelled extensively under his new identity, including making multiple trips to Ukraine.
The website said: ‘Bellingcat’s identification process included multiple open sources, testimony from people familiar with the person, as well as copies of personally identifying documents, including a scanned copy of his passport.’
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by the chemical agent called novichok in Salisbury in March, leaving them critically ill in hospital.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, was inadvertently poisoned when she discovered a perfume bottle filled with the deadly novichok nerve agent used on the Skripals, she later died.
Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by the chemical agent called novichok in Salisbury in March, leaving them critically ill in hospital
Conservative MP and Russia analyst Bob Seely said: ‘This is yet another remarkable investigation by the Bellingcat team of digital detectives.
‘It is appalling that a medical doctor appears to have been part of a team of GRU operatives that attempted to deliver a lethal poison to their target – and accidentally killed another person by mistake.
‘Whilst this operation has been a botched embarrassment for the Kremlin from beginning to end, it worth remembering that we may not know about the GRU’s successful operations and therefore shouldn’t judge the GRU alone by their failures.
‘The Government has shown strong resolve thus far, but it is yet more evidence that the UK needs to develop a long-term plan to understand and expose Russian subversion, as well as identifying the steps needed to protect our democracy.’
The Skripal case and last week’s revelations that the GRU also allegedly tried to hack into the world’s chemical weapons watchdog in the Netherlands have further tattered Moscow’s strained ties with the West.
Dawn Sturgess died following exposure to the nerve agent Novichok in southwest England, four months after the same type of chemical was used against Sergei Skripal and his daughter
Last week Vladimir Putin lashed out at Sergei Skripal branding him a ‘scumbag’ and a ‘traitor’.
The Kremlin has continued to denied it was behind the nerve agent attack on Skripal, a former double agent who sold Russian secrets to the British.
But former KGB agent Putin reaffirmed his views on those who betray Russia last week in a furious outburst about Mr Skripal.
Putin told an energy forum in Moscow: ‘He is just a spy, a traitor to the motherland… He is just a scumbag.’
Bellingcat last month revealed Boshirov was actually Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga.
It was also revealed he was made a Hero of the Russian Federation by decree of the president during a secret ceremony in 2014.
Col Chepiga and Dr Mishkin were charged over the March poisonings by the Crown Prosecution Service, but later appeared on Kremlin-funded news channel RT to reveal their bizarre cover story, prompting worldwide derision.
Theresa May attacks Putin at the UN for his ‘desperate fabrication’ over the Salisbury spy poisoning
The Prime Minister attacked Russia for its ‘desperate fabrication’ over the Salisbury spy poisoning as she addressed world leaders in New York in September.
Britain has set out detailed evidence about the prime suspects in the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia while Russia has only sought to ‘obfuscate’, she said.
Theresa May lambasted Russia for its ‘desperate fabrication’ over the Salisbury poisoning while addressing the General Assembly of the UN on Wednesday
Mrs May told the United Nations Security Council: ‘We have taken appropriate action, with our allies, and we will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure our collective security. Russia has only sought to obfuscate through desperate fabrication.’
Mrs May called on Russia to rejoin the international consensus against the use of chemical weapons and said there should be no doubt of the international community’s determination to take action if it did not.
She said: ‘We cannot let the framework be undermined today by those who reject the values and disregard the rules that have kept us safe.
‘It will take collective engagement to reinforce it in the face of today’s challenges. And in this, as has always been the case, the UK will play a leading role.’
Calling themselves tourists, they said they were only wandering around Salisbury after failing to get to Stonehenge because of snow, and stumbled on the Skripals’ house – as shown on CCTV – because they were looking for Salisbury Cathedral, which has a 400ft spire and is 25 minutes in the other direction.
The pair also refused to say why they booked into an east London hotel 127 miles away – or why it contained traces of Novichok – and failed to explain why they appeared to have no luggage when they hastily travelled home to Russia.
RT even suggested the suspects weren’t trained killers – hinting they were gay lovers on a romantic break because they had ‘little beards, short hair cuts and tight pants’.
Their claims were dismissed as ‘lies and blatant fabrications’ by Downing Street, and looked farcical in the light of the revelations about Chepiga’s military links.
He was eventually unmasked following a painstaking investigating relying on passport files, leaked address lists and public military information.
Bellingcat is set to reveal how they unmasked Dr Mishkin on Tuesday.
Now looking even more shaky… The ‘farcical’ RT interview that saw the would-be assassins claim they were innocent civilians
Revelations about the military background of Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga make the interview he gave to RT in September alongside the second suspected assassin Alexander Petrov appear even more farcical.
Observers quickly pointed out a number of gaping holes in their story, including:
The ‘accidental’ visit to Skripal’s home
CCTV released by police places the two suspects at Sergei Skripal’s suburban house.
Today the men admitted they may have ended up there – but claimed it was an accident.
The property, which had Novichok smeared on the door, is 25 minutes away from the city centre and its cathedral – which the men said they were there to see.
Ruslan Boshirov said: ‘Maybe we passed it, or maybe we didn’t. I’d never heard about them before this nightmare started. I’d never heard this name before. I didn’t know anything about them’.
The hotel 127 miles from Salisbury
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were guests at the City Stay Hotel in Bow, East London, before poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed today that ‘low’ levels of the nerve agent were found in the two-star £48 a night hotel in May.
The men chose a spot some distance from Waterloo – the main rail route to Salisbury – despite making the Wiltshire city the focus of their visit.
It is 127 miles from Salisbury.
The ‘bad’ weather
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov claimed that they only stayed in Salisbury because of heavy snow.
The pair visited days after the Beast from the East hit Britain bringing unseasonably cold weather.
Describing the condition Boshirov said: ‘It was impossible to get anywhere because of the snow. We were drenched up to our knees’.
But CCTV pictures of the men shows the pavements were largely clear of snow.
They also told RT that it snowed in the city that afternoon, but weather maps from that day show sunshine and clear skies.
The missing luggage
The men went straight from Salisbury to Heathrow for the evening flight.
But CCTV suggested that they did not have any luggage with them on their way home.
A timeline of the key developments in the Salisbury poisoning case
2010 – Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer jailed for spying for Britain, is released and flown to the UK as part of a swap with Russian agents caught in the United States. He settles in Salisbury.
March 3, 2018 – Yulia Skripal arrives at Heathrow Airport from Russia to visit her father in England.
March 4, 9.15am – Sergei Skripal’s burgundy BMW is seen in suburban Salisbury, near a cemetery, where his wife and son are commemorated.
March 4, 1.30pm – The BMW is seen driving toward central Salisbury.
March 4, 1.40pm – The BMW is parked at a lot in central Salisbury.
A police officer stands guard outside the Zizzi restaurant where Sergei and Yulia had lunch before they collapsed in a nearby park
March 4, afternoon – Sergei and Yulia Skripal visit the Bishops Mill pub.
March 4, 2.20pm to 3.35pm – Sergei and Yulia Skripal have lunch at the Zizzi restaurant.
March 4, 4.15pm – Emergency services are called by a passer-by concerned about a man and a woman in Salisbury city centre.
Officers find the Skripals unconscious on a bench. They are taken to Salisbury District Hospital, where they remain in critical condition.
March 5, morning – Police say two people in Salisbury are being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was among the first police officers on the scene and was himself hospitalised
March 5, afternoon – Wiltshire Police, along with Public Health England, declare a ‘major incident’
March 7 – Police announce that the Skripals were likely poisoned with a nerve agent in a targeted murder attempt.
They disclose that a police officer who responded to the incident is in serious condition in a hospital.
March 8 – Home Secretary Amber Rudd describes the use of a nerve agent on UK soil was a ‘brazen and reckless act’ of attempted murder
March 9 – About 180 troops trained in chemical warfare and decontamination are deployed to Salisbury to help with the police investigation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow might be willing to assist with the investigation but expresses resentment at suggestions the Kremlin was behind the attack.
March 11 – Public health officials tell people who visited the Zizzi restaurant or Bishops Mill pub in Salisbury on the day of the attack or the next day to wash their clothes as a precaution.
March 12, morning– Prime Minister Theresa May tells the House of Commons that the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
March 12, afternoon – Public Health England ask everyone who visited Salisbury town centre on the day of the attack to wash all of their clothes and belongings.
Officers wearing chemical protection suits secure the forensic tent over the bench where Sergei and Yulia fell ill
March 14 – The PM announces the expulsion of 23 suspected Russian spies from the country’s UK Embassy.
March 22 – Nick Bailey, the police officer injured in the attack, is released from hospital.
March 26 – The United States and 22 other countries join Britain in expelling scores of Russian spies from capitals across the globe.
March 29 – Doctors say Yulia Skripal is ‘improving rapidly’ in hospital.
‘Unknown time in the spring’ – Dutch authorities expelled two suspected Russian spies who tried to hack into a Swiss laboratory
April 3 – The chief of the Porton Down defence laboratory said it could not verify the ‘precise source’ of the nerve agent.
April 5, morning – Yulia Skripal’s cousin Viktoria says she has received a call from Yulia saying she plans to leave hospital soon.
Dawn Sturgess died in hospital on July 8
April 5, afternoon – A statement on behalf of Yulia is released by Metropolitan Police, in which she says her strength is ‘growing daily’ and that ‘daddy is fine’.
April 9 – Ms Skripal is released from hospital and moved to a secure location.
May 18 – Sergei Skripal is released from hospital 11 weeks after he was poisoned.
June 30 – Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fall ill at a property in Amesbury, which is eight miles from Salisbury, and are rushed to hospital.
July 4 – Police declare a major incident after Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley are exposed to an ‘unknown substance’, later revealed to be Novichok.
July 5 – Sajid Javid demands an explanation over the two poisonings as he accuses the Russian state of using Britain as a ‘dumping ground for poison’.
July 8 – Mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, 44, dies in hospital due to coming into contact with Novichok.
July 10 – Mr Rowley regains consciousness at hospital, and later tells his brother that Dawn had sprayed the Novichok onto her wrists.
July 19 – Police are believed to have identified the perpetrators of the attack.
August 20 – Charlie Rowley is rushed to hospital as he starts to lose his site, but doctors can’t confirm whether it has anything to do with the poisoning.
August 26 – Charlie Rowley admitted to intensive care unit with meningitis
August 28 – Police call in the ‘super recognisers’ in bid to track down the poisoners
September 4 – Charlie Rowley’s brother says he has ‘lost all hope’ and doesn’t have long to live.
Independent investigators, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, confirm the toxic chemical that killed Ms Sturgess was the same nerve agent as that which poisoned the Skripals.
September 5 – Scotland Yard and CPS announce enough evidence to charge Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov for conspiracy to murder over Salisbury nerve agent attack.
September 13 – Britain’s most wanted men speak to RT and claim to be humble tourists
September 26 – The real identity of one of the two assassins, named by police as Ruslan Boshirov, is reported to be Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga.
October 3: New photo emerges that appears to show Col Chepiga on the Wall of Heroes at the Far-Eastern Military Academy, providing more evidence against the Kremlin’s denials.