U.K. investigators say poisoning suspect honored by Putin in 2014

The Associated Press LONDON (AP) — One of the two suspects in the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in England is a medical doctor in Russian military intelligence who was honored as a Hero of the Russian Federation by President Vladimir Putin in 2014, a group of British investigators said Tuesday.

British police say two GRU agents traveling under the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Borishov used a Soviet-made nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury in March.

Investigative organization Bellingcat said it had used documents and other research to identify Petrov as Dr. Alexander Mishkin, a member of Russia’s GRU intelligence agency. Last month, it said that Borishov’s real identity is GRU Col. Anatoly Chepiga.

British authorities don’t dispute the identifications. Moscow, which denies involvement in the poisoning, declined to comment.

Bellingcat is a team of volunteer digital detectives who scour social media and open-source records to investigate crimes. In the past, the group has focused on the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine and chemical attacks in Syria.

The group said it identified Mishkin through passport information, residents’ databases, car registration records and phone records, as well as personal testimony from people who know him.

The head of the Insider, Bellingcat’s Russian partner organization, called the GRU “stupid” for allowing its agents to be found so easily.

“The most important thing for Russian media and for Russian bloggers, people who follow the story, is how the GRU could be so stupid?” Roman Dobrokhotov said. “And what is the chaos inside the system if all this information appears to be so open and easy to access for anybody, even for two journalists with laptops, like us with Bellingcat.”

Mishkin was born in 1979, grew up in the remote marshland village of Loyga in northern Russia and studied medicine at the elite Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, according to the group.

Two former students at the academy confirmed Mishkin was the man British authorities identified as Alexander Petrov, Bellingcat said. Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins said one ex-student told the group that classmates had “been told not to talk to anyone about his identity.”

Seven residents of Loyga visited by the Insider also identified Mishkin, the group said.

“They confirmed that their homeboy Alexander Mishkin was the person who moved on to military school and then became a famous military doctor and who received the award of Hero of the Russian Federation personally from President Putin,” Bellingcat investigator Christo Grozev said during a news conference at Britain’s Parliament.

Traveling under his assumed name of Petrov, Mishkin went to Ukraine and other former Soviet states between 2011 and 2013, Bellingcat said.

In 2014, he was active in military operations in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia separatists lead a violent breakaway movement. The same year, he was given Russia’s highest honor.

Grozev said villagers recounted that Mishkin’s grandmother had a photograph “that has been seen by everybody in the village, of Putin shaking Mishkin’s hand and giving him the award.”Speech

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