BERLIN, Feb 18 — Russian security services provided “essential support” in the killing of a former Chechen commander in a Berlin park, media have reported.
The shock 2019 murder has badly bruised ties between Moscow and Berlin, and German prosecutors have already said they have proof the killing was carried out on behalf of Russian or Chechen state agents.
Georgian national Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was shot twice in the head at close range in a Berlin park, allegedly by a man on a bicycle who was later seen throwing a bag into a river.
German media said the suspect was aided by Russia’s FSB security service.
Investigative website Bellingcat, The Insider and Germany’s Der Spiegel said data from the suspect’s mobile phone point to contact with members of Vympel, an organisation for former FSB special forces troops, and with the FSB itself.
“We have determined that essential support for the operation... was provided directly by the FSB,” according to a Bellingcat article Monday.
Bellingcat has previously identified Vadim Sokolov—as the suspect is named on identity documents—as 54-year-old Vadim Krasikov.
Russian police issued an international arrest warrant in 2013 for Krasikov over the killing of a businessman.
In the months before the Berlin killing, phone records show repeated contacts between the suspect’s phone and Eduard Bendersky, the leader of the Vympel organisation, Bellingcat reported.
Vympel has close ties to “Department V”, a counter-terrorism unit of the FSB with its origins in a Soviet unit, also named Vympel, that carried out operations abroad including targeted killings.
“Bendersky and Krasikov spoke by phone at least 20 times in the period of February-August 2019,” the website found.
The suspect’s phone also connected to cell towers near Vympel sites, as well eight times to one at the FSB’s Special Operations Centre outside Moscow.
The phone connected twice to a tower near an FSB anti-terrorist centre, and four times to one at a Spetsnaz special forces training base.
And Krasikov spoke to three people, “all current or former members of Department V” in the three weeks before Khangoshvili’s murder, Bellingcat reported.
The case prompted Berlin to expel two Russian diplomats last year—with Moscow kicking out two Germans in exchange.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has blamed Moscow for failing to aide the investigation.
“We have not seen Russia supporting us in clearing up this murder,” she said last year.
Khangoshvili was involved on the Chechen side in the second Chechen war against Russia.
He later joined a Georgian anti-terrorist unit, but kept up ties to Islamist circles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in December called him a “fighter, very cruel and bloody”. — AFP