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Skripal Suspect Boshirov Identified as GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga

September 26, 2018

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

Bellingcat and its investigative partner The Insider – Russia have established conclusively the identity of one of the suspects in the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal, and in the homicide of British citizen Dawn Sturgess. 

Part 1 and Part 2 of Bellingcat’s investigation into the Skripal poisoning suspects are available for background information. In these previous two parts of the investigation, Bellingcat and the Insider concluded that the two suspects – traveling internationally and appearing on Russian television under the aliases “Ruslan Boshirov” and “Alexander Petrov” – are in fact undercover officers of the Russian Military Intelligence, widely known as GRU.

Bellingcat has been able to confirm the actual identity of one of the two officers. The suspect using the cover identity of “Ruslan Boshirov” is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated GRU officer bestowed with Russia’s highest state award, Hero of the Russian Federation. Following Bellingcat’s own identification, multiple sources familiar with the person and/or the investigation have confirmed the suspect’s identity.

This finding eliminates any remaining doubt that the two suspects in the Novichok poisonings were in fact Russian officers operating on a clandestine government mission.

While civilians in Russia can generally own more than one passport, no civilian – or even an intelligence service officer on a personal trip – can cross the state border under a fake identity. The discovery also highlights the extent of the effort – and public diplomacy risk – Russia has taken to protect the identities of the officers. President Putin publicly vouched that “Boshirov” and “Petrov” are civilians. As it is established practice that the awards Hero of the Russian Federation are handed out by the Russian president personally, it is highly likely that Vladimir Putin would have been familiar with the identity of Colonel Chepiga, given that only a handful of officers receive this award each year.

Who is Colonel Chepiga?

Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga was born on 5 April 1979, in the far-eastern village of Nikolaevka in the Amur oblast, population 300, near the Russia-China border. At age 18, he enrolled at a military school just 40 kilometers from his home, the Far-Eastern Military Command Academy in Blagoveschensk, one of Russia’s elite training grounds for marine commandos and Spetsnaz officers.

Anatoliy Chepiga graduated the academy with honors in 2001. He was then assigned to serve in the 14th Spetsnaz Brigade in Russia’s farthest-eastern city of Khabarovsk, one of the elite Spetsnaz units under GRU command. Chepiga’s unit (74854, formerly 20662) played a key role in the second Chechen War, and was also observed near the Ukrainian border in late 2014.

Over the course of his assignment to the 14th Spetsnaz Brigade, Colonel Chepiga was deployed three times to Chechnya. The specific operations he was involved in are not known; however, a website of a far-eastern branch of a state-run military volunteer organization reports that he received over 20 military awards in the course of his service.

At some point between 2003 (the last year we identified him at the 14th Spetsnaz Brigade in Khabarovsk) and 2010 (the year he received his first undercover passport), Anatoliy Chepiga was assigned his alter ego, “Ruslan Boshirov”, and was relocated to Moscow. Given his current rank of Colonel and function as a clandestine GRU officer, it is plausible that during this period he graduated from the Military Diplomatic Academy, also known as the “GRU Conservatory,” in Moscow.

In December 2014, Colonel Chepiga was awarded Russia’s highest state awardHero of the Russian Federation.This award is bestowed personally by the President of Russia “as recognition of services to the state and the people of Russia involving a heroic deed”.

Most of the awards are handed out in public ceremonies – and accompanied by a presidential decree, such as the award in 2016 to Russian officers fighting in Syria. Other presidential decrees – when the underlying act of heroism is subject to state secrecy – are kept secret. This is the case with the award to Colonel Chepiga. While there is no publicly issued decree – or reference to him on the Kremlin website – the state-run volunteer website specifies that he received the award “in December 2014…for conducting a peace-keeping mission.”

Indeed, the fact that Colonel Chepiga was bestowed the Hero of Russia award is announced on the website of his military school. While most other recipients of the award have a detailed description of the acts that resulted in the recognition, the last two recipients – Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Popov – received only a terse statement: “by decree from the Russian president.” This further implies that the mission he – or they – were awarded for was secret.

Memorial wall of the Far Eastern Military Command School with Colonel Chepiga as the last name under the Gold Star honor list

The phrasing and timing of the award provides significant clues as to where Colonel Chepiga’s mission was. In 2014, there were no military activities in Chechnya. Russia had not engaged militarily in Syria yet. The only region in which Russia was conducting active military operations in secrecy at the time was in Eastern Ukraine, which is the most likely theatre of his mission, as suggested by the secrecy of his award.

Anatoliy Chepiga is married and has one child.

The Challenge of Finding Colonel Chepiga

Bellingcat began the search with only the two targets’ photographs and their cover identities. Initially we attempted reverse image-search via several online engines, but no matches were found. Similarly, no name telephone numbers were registered in the name of “Ruslan Boshirov” in any of the reverse-searchable telephone databases usually scraped by Bellingcat.

Having tried these initial avenues of pursuit, Bellingcat and the Insider approached the search deductively. On the assumption that the two suspects were GRU officers with a focus on West European covert operations (see our second publication about the Skripal poisoning suspects), and knowing their approximate age, we contacted former Russian military officers to inquire what specialized schools would have provided appropriate training. One of the sources we contacted suggested that the school with the best reputation for foreign-language training and overseas clandestine operations at the turn of the century – when the two suspects would have studied – was the Far Eastern Military Command Academy. The graduation years for the two were estimated between 2001 and 2003.

We browsed through multiple (incomplete) yearbook photos and reunion galleries of the classes of 2001-2003 but did not find exact matches for either of the suspects. There were several possible – but not certain – matches for the suspect “Boshirov”. One of these was in a group photograph from a 2018 article about the history of the Academy. Near a photograph of Academy graduates deployed in Chechnya, the text referred to “seven school graduates [who] were bestowed with the Hero of Russia Award”.

Photo of DVOKU graduates on assignment in Chechnya, undated. Bellingcat does not claim that the person on the right is Chepiga; photograph included for completeness of research process only

While testing the hypothesis that the unnamed person at right-most end of the photo might be “Boshirov,” we searched online for references to “DVOKU” (the Russian abbreviation for the Far Eastern Military Command Academy), “Chechnya” and “Hero of the Russian Federation.” This search landed us at the above-referenced Volunteer Union website, which described a certain Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga as linked to all three search terms.

Online searches in both Google and via two Russian search engines found no images, or social media presence, related to a Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, or to anyone by that name with a military connection. This appeared to be highly unusual, given the fact he had been awarded the highest state honor.

Subsequently, the research team scoured leaked Russian databases for references to Anatoliy Chepiga. A number of leaked residential and/or telephone databases of various Russian cities and regions are freely available as torrents on the internet; data in such databases varies in recency between 2000 and 2014.

The research team was able to find Anatoliy Chepiga in two locations and time periods in the database: in 2003, in Khabarovsk; and in 2012 in Moscow.

In the 2003 database, a certain Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga was listed with a phone number and an address only described as “в/ч 20662“, the Russian abbreviation for Military Unit 20662. 20662 is the Ministry of Defense designation number of Spetsnaz unit of GRU’s 14th Brigade in Khabarovsk.

At press time, the telephone number listed next to the name of Anatoliy Chepiga was used by a person who has owned it for 4 years, and who was not aware of the previous owner of the number.

Bellingcat accepted the working assumption that this person was indeed Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, described in the publication as “Hero of the Russian Federation”.

In the 2012 database, one person named Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga were listed as residing in Moscow. This man was born on 5 April 1979.

Using the birth date, address and family members’ names, Bellingcat searched for this man online and on social networks, to no avail. Another person with the same full name and birth year – but a different date of birth – was identified as a business owner unrelated to “Boshirov”. The birth year (1979) of the candidate from the database was one year later than the birth year in “Boshirov”s cover documents, however it corresponded to a graduation year from the military academy in 2001.

At this point, Bellingcat accepted the working hypothesis that the man from the 2003 and 2012 databases is the same, and is in fact Colonel Chepiga, Hero of the Russian Federation.

To establish if he is, in fact, “Boshirov,” we needed to obtain a photograph. None were available online or in open sources, even in a number of articles that referred to “Hero of Russia Colonel Chepiga.” Another graduate of DVOKU who reportedly received the same award simultaneously with Chepiga  – Alexander Popov – could be seen in photos and videos, yet Chepiga was conspicuously absent. The systematic omission from photographs of an otherwise notable figure – which Bellingcat had previously observed in the case of GRU General Oleg Ivannikov, who served as Minister of Defense of South Ossetia under the cover identity of Andrey Laptev – suggested that Colonel Chepiga may also be a secret service officer.

To validate the hypothesis that Chepiga is Skripal poisoning suspect “Boshirov,” Bellingcat and The Insider obtained extracts from the passport file of Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga – the man born on 5th April 1979 – from two separate sources with access to databases dated prior to 2014.

The passport file contained a photograph – dated approximately in 2003, when this passport was obtained – that strongly resembled a younger “Boshirov” as seen in passport photos released by the UK police, with an even stronger resemblance to the cover identity passport photo published in our previous publication on the Skripal suspects.

Left: Anatoliy Chepiga’s passport photo from 2003. Middle: “Ruslan Boshirov”‘s passport photo from 2009. Right: “Ruslan Boshirov”, as seen in a photograph released by UK police

A passport application form in the passport dossier listed Chepiga’s 2003 place of residence as “Military Unit 20662, Khabarovsk”, confirming this was indeed the person identified in the 2003 database. It also listed his place of birth as “village of Nikolaevka”, further linking this person to the Hero of the Russian Federation with the same name.

The passport application form identified also Anatoliy Chepiga’s marital status and listed his military ID number.

A Mission of Critical Importance

Based on the array of information sources consulted – all of which were independent from each other and came from different time periods – Bellingcat was able to conclude with certainty that the person identified by UK authorities as “Ruslan Boshirov,” is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga, a highly decorated senior officer from Russian military intelligence who was awarded the highest state honor in late 2014.

This finding starkly contradicts both this man’s statements, as made in a TV interview to Russia’s state-run RT network, and President Vladimir Putin’s assertions that the person in question is merely a civilian named Ruslan Boshirov. These demonstrated falsehoods overshadow this man’s – and the Russian government’s – other denials in this respect, and corroborate the UK authorities’ allegations that this individual was a) complicit in the Skripal poisoning and b) acted on orders from a high-level government authority in Russia.

Bellingcat has contacted confidentially a former Russian military officer of similar rank as Colonel Chepiga, in order to receive a reaction to what we found. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed surprise that at least one of the operatives engaged in the operation in Salisbury had the rank of colonel. Even more surprising was the suspects’ prior award of the highest military recognition.

In our source’s words, an operation of this sort would have typically required a lower-ranked, “field operative” with a military rank of “no higher than captain.” The source further surmised that to send a highly decorated colonel back to a field job would be highly extraordinary, and would imply that “the job was ordered at the highest level.”

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946 Comments

  1. Juergen Moritz

    Skripal attack was fake.
    In order to catch the russian army official, and get information.

    Reply
  2. raffik

    but we are missing one thing:
    the fact (if true) that somebody is working for Russ. Fed. does not prove that he committed something. On the contrary, it might be the exact contrary, it might be a counter espionage faked accident caused by Cia intelligence with the purpose of:
    -unjustly accuse some foreign agents on the spot
    -accuse Russ. Fed. and enforce sanctions. Very likely, it part of a bigger strategy to discredit Russia and keep Europe far away from it, so to keep it dependent and subject of Usa
    The tattic is: throw a stone with your left hand so nobody will look what your right hand is doing.
    Question: Why Skripal’s daughter cannot speak? She is evidently intimidated.
    We are told one side of the coin, and huge resources have been spent to show this one side.
    Question:How is it possible that after 2 hours of the accident the media already new the kind of poison and that it was a poison?
    Russia has been denied to cooperate. Why? You accuse somebody and do not permit it to cooperate or give explanations since the beginning. You hide the victims and do not allow them to tell their story. You present facts with such speed and precision after 2 hours!
    I am not a troll, I am not filo this or that. I simply ask to see other faces of a multidimensional coin.
    And I know: Usa are struggling to keep their control over Europe and are scared of any economic or political relation between Europe and Russ. Fed. Historically it is well known that provocations are a constant of Usa tactics to justify measures against supposed enemies.
    Why don’t you check inside corrupted Uk intelligence officers who are working with Cia? Isn’t Skripal working for intelligence now? He is the offended but at the same he is working with intelligence against Russia. He could have built a story in accordance with intelligence to discredit Russia, and did it when 2 or more agents were visiting an English town…..
    or you tell all the tale and permit full view, or I am forced to say: Usa and other deviated intelligence officers (Uk) are very good to build stories, much better than Russia. Study history.

    Reply
    • Arms

      A leopard never changes it’s spots. It’s no coincidence that anyone who shows dissent towards the Russian federation either go missing murdered or put in prison. These countries you mentioned have democracy, freedom of speech freedom of journalist which cannot be said for Russia. Russian dissidents have been murdered all over the world including in countries which are allies with Russia, but hey I guess the world is lying and Russia telling the truth lol. I guess we’ll just have to believe two Russian blokes visited England to see cathedrals which was stated by your independently run news channel RT. What a shamble of a operation, or maybe it was ment to be found out so easy who knows…..

      Reply
  3. Francois Labelle

    LOL!! “and did it when 2 or more (Russian) agents were visiting an English town…..” Raffik is definitely a pathetic Russian troll…or trying very hard to be!! Everybody is corrupt except his snowflake mafia nest war mongering motherland…

    Reply
  4. Francois Labelle

    Raffik “and did it when 2 or more agents were visiting an English town…..” LOL! More Russian trolls coming out of the woodwork!! How pathetic, but befitting Russia’s time-honoured bullshit for the Russian masses!!!

    Reply
  5. raffik

    We are talking about possibilities. The major mistake was to refuse to cooperate with Russian authorities and hide many things. In any case the presence of intelll. agents does not imply they did something unlawfull, while something unlawfull might have been simulated or done in order to criminalize Russia.
    I insist, where is the other side of the coin? Why Julia cannot talk? Why Russia was kept out of cooperation?
    Did it really happen, did anybody interviewed the Skripals?
    All questions and ipothesis are licit as long as you show only one face of the coin.
    How many Cia or intell. servants where in the city at that moment? Did you check it? Did you use the same deepness in following other ipothesis? Did anybody in Bellingcat knows what Galileian methiod is? The fact that 2 supposed Russian agents where in the city does not mean that the Russian complot is the only path to follow. If I were Cia, I would use the presence of Russian agents to put the blame on Russia and create the pretext to impose sanctions and have the European dogs to follow me.
    What is the use of knowing so much about the the 2 russians? Bring proofs and most of all show different paths, different point of views.
    I am not a Troll, I use reasoning, I think this matter was treated one side, with prejudice. If you use all your intell and resources to proove only one version of the story, is the same as lying.
    regards

    Reply
  6. Francois Labelle

    Raffik “The major mistake was to refuse to cooperate with Russian authorities and hide many things.” LOL again! The Russian government is the international mafia…when you investigate a crime, do you contact the suspect(s) and ask them to help you investigate the crime to seek their inputs!?? The Skripals just about died as a result of Russia uses of poison, just like they did before, acting like the international mafia that they are… do anyone in his right mind would seek cooperation with the government that tried to kill you!? Fucking idiot! Just look at how many dozens of scenarios the Russian military gave the world on explaining the pathetic downing of MH17? Thank god for Bellingcat to investigate and give us the truth! Same for Crimea armed invasion denied by RasPutin until he eventually admitted the little green man was Russian Army Special Forces…Eastern Ukraine is also being invaded by Russian regular forces since 2014. Same pathetic denials on the FSB Russian special services (intelligence(!?) / Russian government involved in facilitating and organizing the systemic banned substances doping of Russian athletes in the Olympics…you are a troll! Go home and stop your lying Russian propaganda!

    Reply

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