Prosecutors in Germany have filed murder charges against a Russian national accused of the slaying of a Georgian man in Berlin last year and said the Russian government ordered the killing.
The killing in broad daylight on August 23 in the German capital strained ties between Moscow and Berlin. In December, Germany expelled two Russian diplomats, citing a lack of cooperation with its probe.
In a statement on June 18, German federal prosecutors filed charges of murder and a violation of weapons laws against a Russian citizen they identified Vadim K., alias Vadim S.
They said that, at some point before mid-July last year, “state agencies of the central government of the Russian Federation” tasked him with “liquidating” the victim, Tornike K., who has been identified in reports on the killing as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who fought against Russian troops in Chechnya.
Speaking to reporters in Vienna during a trip to Austria on June 18, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the prosecutors' announcement: “We once again invited the Russian ambassador for a meeting at the Foreign Ministry today to make our position unmistakably clear again to the Russian side, and the German government expressly reserves the right to take further measures in this case.”
Media reports said that the Russian ambassador to Germany was called in to the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin on June 18.
A German government spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying Berlin takes the federal prosecutors’ statement that the killing was ordered by Russian authorities seriously and that the government "reserves the right to take further steps."
The Russian ambassador, Sergei Nechayev, called accusations that Russia had ordered the killing “unfounded,” according to Russian news agencies.
"As for the threats coming from Berlin on possible further measures against Russia, if they are put into practice, they won't be left unanswered," Nechayev said.
The 40-year-old Khangoshvili had several brushes with death. In the early 2000s, he fought with Chechen separatists against Russian forces during the Second Chechen War.
In 2015 in Tbilisi, he was targeted in an apparent assassination hit. He survived with gunshot wounds to the arm and shoulder. Later in Ukraine, he was tipped off about another planned hit and went into hiding before turning up in Berlin in late 2016.
In the German capital on August 23, 2019, a man approached him in the city’s Kleiner Tiergarten and shot him several times in the head, killing him instantly.
A Russian national, allegedly traveling under a false identity, was arrested as a suspect. Moscow has denied any role in the killing.
Germany on December 4 expelled the two Russian diplomats after federal prosecutors took over the case after gathering evidence that a “foreign intelligence agency” was behind the slaying.
After the killing, Russian President Vladimir Putin – without providing evidence – asserted that Khangoshvili had been a “murderous fighter” who was involved in several terror attacks in Russia.
At the time of the killing, acquaintances of Khangoshvili said they were convinced he was killed for his role as a military commander in Chechnya in the early 2000s. Some even criticized the German government for not approving his request for asylum.
"The fact that he fought in the Second Chechen War, as a mid-level commander, that's enough, I think, for him to have been hunted," Saikhan Muzayev, an acquaintance of Khangoshvili, told Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
The open source investigative group Bellingat said the killing had been planned and organized by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
In a report following a monthlong probe, Bellingcat said it found that preparations for the killing of Khangoshvili were supervised directly by Eduard Bendersky, chairman of the Vympel Charitable Fund For Former FSB Spetsnaz Officers, and other senior members of the fund.
Russia has been accused in the past of deploying agents abroad to target Kremlin opponents, including the 2018 poisoning in Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.