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Suspect In Berlin Killing Of Ethnic Chechen Visited By Russian Diplomats

In this undated photo, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili (right) is shown seated alongside Aslan Maskhadov, who served briefly as president of Chechnya in the 1990s.

Russian diplomats in Berlin met on September 2 with the suspected killer of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, an ethnic Chechen Georgian national, Interfax news agency reports.

"Consular officials of the Russian Embassy in Germany met with the detained citizen at his request and in accordance with Russian legislation and provided all necessary consular and legal assistance to him on August 27," the diplomatic mission’s press service said.

German authorities have only said the suspect in the Berlin killing is a Russian citizen and that a political motive is not being ruled out for the murder.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the assertion that the Russian government was involved.

"This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Russian government, with official agencies," Peskov was quoted by Interfax.

The victim fought in the Second Chechen War in 1999-2002 against state Russian forces alongside the notorious field commander Shamil Basayev and was reportedly close to Aslan Maskhadov, who had briefly served as president of Chechnya.

Khangoshvili’s assailant lethally shot him in Berlin on August 23 with two bullets to the head using a 9-millimeter Glock 26 with an attached silencer, a joint investigation by German news magazine Der Spiegel, The Insider in Russia, and British online investigators Bellingcat says.

The suspect used the alias Vadim Adreevich Sokolov and his real identity isn’t known, Bellingcat says.

According to the joint investigation, the suspect had a passport whose number is linked to Russian security services, notably the GRU military intelligence service.

However, nobody exists with the name of the alleged assassin in the Russian national passport register.

“Sokolov” traveled to Germany via France where the joint investigation visited the Paris hotel that he listed on his visa application.

There, “a hotel receptionist, upon being shown a photograph of the suspect, said they had not seen this person at the hotel,” the joint report stated.

Bellingcat said it is “puzzling” that the French Embassy in Russia issued the suspect an expedited multi-entry visa given that “Sokolov” has no “digital or data footprint in Russia, listed an incomplete or false address and employment data, had a freshly issued passport, and had not traveled to Europe at least since 2013.”

German media have speculated that Khangoshvili may have been targeted by Russian security agents, and drew parallels to the 2018 poisoning in England of KGB double agent Sergei Skripal, who was allegedly targeted by the GRU.

A separate Bellingcat investigation alleges that three GRU officers attempted the murder of Skripal while also travelling with authentic passports bearing fake names. Two of the three officers that Bellingcat identified are wanted by the British authorities for questioning.

Russia denies state involvement in the poisoning.

In 2006, President Vladimir Putin signed an order that legalized the killing of people who live outside of Russia and who are deemed to pose a terrorist threat -- essentially, state-authorized assassinations.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Senior Correspondent Mike Eckel, Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, The Insider, and Reuters
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