Russian Diplomat Who Died at Berlin Embassy is Senior Intelligence Figure’s Son

  • German magazine Der Spiegel has reported that a Russian diplomat was found dead last month after falling from one of the top floors of the Russian Embassy in Berlin. The diplomat’s lifeless body was found at approximately 7:20 am on 19 October 2021 by police guarding the embassy compound.
  • It is not clear if the fall was the reason for the death, or if the individual had died before falling. Emergency services that arrived on the scene were unable to resuscitate the diplomat. Due to the diplomatic status of the person, no police investigation or autopsy was possible and the Russian embassy repatriated the body.
  • The Russian embassy commented to Der Spiegel that the case was a tragic incident and declined further comments for ethical reasons.
  • Officials familiar with the case told Der Spiegel that they suspected the diplomat, who served as a second secretary at the embassy, was in fact an undercover FSB officer and was related to a high-ranking FSB general.

The Russian flag flies atop the country’s embassy in Berlin (Credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)

Bellingcat has confirmed, using open source data, that the diplomat was the son of the deputy director of FSB’s Second Service and the head of the FSB’s Directorate for Protection of Constitutional Order, Gen. Alexey Zhalo. Car and address registration data from leaked Cronos databases freely available on the internet shows that the diplomat — who also carries Gen. Zhalo’s first name as patronymic — was registered at the same address as the general both in Moscow and, previously, in Rostov where the family hails from. Google cached and current data shows that the second secretary of the Russian embassy was removed from the diplomatic list of the German Foreign Ministry at some point between 1 November and 4 November 2021.

A screen grab of leaked Cronos databases.

As previously reported by Bellingcat and its partners, the FSB’s Second Service has been linked to the assassination of Georgian asylum seeker and former Chechen rebel commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten on 23 August 2019. Phone metadata obtained and analysed by Bellingcat showed that the accused killer Vadim Krasikov, who is currently facing trial in Berlin on charges of a state-mandated murder, visited the premises of the FSB’s antiterrorism centrer — part of the FSB’s Second Service — as well as the secure shooting training compound outside Moscow operated by the Center for Special Operations, also subordinated to the Second Service. Before his trip to Berlin the suspected killer also communicated extensively with Eduard Bendersky, a former member of FSB’s Vympel Spetsnaz department who repeatedly travelled on joint airline bookings with the Director of the Second Service of FSB, Gen. Alexey Sedov.

The deceased diplomat’s father, who is Sedov’s deputy, also directly oversees the Directorate for Protection of the Constitutional Order. As previously reported by Bellingcat, officers from this Directorate were part of the FSB squad that tailed Alexey Navalny prior to his poisoning in August 2020, and could also be linked to the suspected poisoning of other opposition figures including Vladimir Kara-Murza. 

The deceased Russian diplomat previously served as Third Secretary of Russia’s permanent representation to the United Nations in Vienna, and was based there since at least 2013. He was moved to Berlin on 19 June 2019, two months before the murder of Khangoshvili. There is no evidence that he was involved in the planning or logistical support for the assassination. 

German prosecutors have argued that the accused killer could not have acted without some support on the ground, as he arrived in Berlin just hours before the murder, and would therefore not have had the time to arrange for the detailed escape route, e-bicycle and escape electric scooter that were all crucial to the assassination plan.