In a development expected to further strain UK-Russia relations, Scotland Yard on Tuesday named and charged a third Russian military intelligence officer in the murder conspiracy case involving nerve agent poisonings in the UK town of Salisbury back in March 2018.
The Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism officers said Denis Sergeev – under the alias Sergey Fedotov – is wanted in connection with the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a Novichok nerve agent, along with two other Russian suspects.
“This marks another significant development in our investigation. Ever since these terrible incidents occurred, we were clear that we would be relentless in our investigation and our pursuit of justice for the victims of the attacks and their families,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, who has been leading the Counter Terrorism Police investigation into the Salisbury and linked Amesbury attacks three years ago.
“Whilst public attention gradually moved away from what happened in Salisbury and Amesbury, the investigation team has remained absolutely focused, meticulously poring over the evidence and building our case. This has been one of the most complex investigations ever undertaken in Counter Terrorism policing and the skill, professionalism and dedication shown by everyone involved has been remarkable,” he said.
In a statement in the House of Commons, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel accused Russia of challenging the “fundamental basis of international order".
"Should any of these individuals ever travel outside Russia we will work with our international partners and take every possible step to detain and extradite them to face justice. We will continue to take robust steps to counter the threat posed by the Russian state," she said.
The Met Police said its enquiries uncovered evidence to show that ‘Sergey Fedotov’ is an alias for ‘Denis Sergeev’ and that he is a member of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU. Evidence gathered also shows that ‘Ruslan Boshirov’ and ‘Alexander Petrov’ are aliases for ‘Anatoliy Chepiga’ and ‘Alexander Mishkin’ respectively and that these individuals are members of the GRU.
It marks the first time in the case that UK police have said they have evidence that the men accused of the attacks that caused outrage in the UK are part of the Russian spy agency.
Prosecutors from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Counter Terrorism Division considered the evidence and concluded they have sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and that it is in the public interest to charge Fedotov. In September 2018, the CPS had announced charges against the first two suspects, who also travelled to the UK under aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied any Russian involvement in the poisonings – the first chemical weapons attack on European soil since World War II.