Germany has expelled two Russian diplomats after a court in Berlin convicted a Russian man of fatally shooting a former Chechen militant in 2019 in Berlin on Moscow’s orders.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the expulsions were communicated to Russian Ambassador Sergei Nechayev during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry.
Russian involvement in the August 2019 murder of Tornike Kavtarashvili was a "serious violation of German law and the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany," Baerbock said.
The second criminal division of the Higher Regional Court in Berlin noted the gravity of the attack by the 56-year-old suspect, named as Vadim Krasikov, aka Vadim Sokolov, in the murder of Tornike Kavtarashvili in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in August 2019.
The shooting, which took place a short distance from the chancellery and parliament, strained already tense Russian-German relations. The guilty verdict is expected to put the new German government under pressure to draw up an appropriate political response, though the judge said politics played no part in the court proceedings.
"Some media suggested that Russia or even [Russian President] Vladimir Putin are on trial here.... That's misleading: Only the convict is on the bench. But our task does involve considering the circumstances of the crime," he added.
Prosecutors said Krasikov, an alleged officer in Russia’s FSB secret service, approached Kavtarashvili, aka Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, on a bicycle and shot him with a pistol equipped with a silencer.
After the 40-year-old victim fell to the ground, prosecutors said Krasikov shot him in the back of the head before fleeing. Krasikov was arrested following the killing after witnesses said they saw him changing clothes behind a bush.
Prosecutors said Moscow ordered the murder because Khangoshvili was a commander of separatists in Russia’s North Caucasus region between 2000 and 2004.
Putin described Khangoshvili as a “bandit” and “terrorist.”
In the trial, federal prosecutor Nikolaus Forschner argued it was irrelevant whether Khangoshvili was actually a terrorist because as an asylum seeker in Germany since 2016 he posed no threat to justify “preventative killing.”
Forschner accused the Russian leadership of “radically disregarding the rule of law” and violating German sovereignty.
The Russian state's motive, prosecutors said, was retaliation as well as an effort to intimidate other Chechen asylum seekers by making them believe they are not safe from the tentacles of Russia's security apparatus.
A Russian Embassy statement called the court's ruling "biased and politically motivated" and said it further complicates Russian-German relations.
"The absurd statement that the Russian Federation was involved in this wrongful act was methodically imposed on the public throughout the trial, woven into the general anti-Russian background, but in the end, it was never confirmed by any convincing evidence. We raise grave concerns over the outcome, and such an unfriendly act won't be left unanswered."
Prosecutors said the operation was "obviously planned well in advance," with Russian authorities creating a cover identity of Vadim Sokolov and providing support on the ground.
The defense argued in court that the evidence presented by prosecutors was "highly questionable," as were allegations of Russian state involvement.
Defense lawyer Robert Unger pointed to a lack of witnesses to what happened before the crime and questions over the identity of the suspect.