Germany has expelled two Russian diplomats and its federal prosecutors have taken over the case of the slaying of an ethnic Chechen Georgian national in Berlin amid allegations of Russian involvement.
The German Foreign Ministry said in a statement on December 4 that two employees of the Russian Embassy in Berlin were deemed “to be persona non grata in accordance with Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, 40, who had previously fought alongside separatists in Russia’s Chechnya region, was shot twice in the head in Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23.
A Russian national suspected of carrying out the killing was arrested shortly afterward.
“With this step the Federal Government reacts to the fact that the Russian authorities, despite repeated high-ranking and emphatic requests, did not sufficiently participate in the investigation of the murder,” the statement said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded sharply to the news, saying the expulsions were “baseless and unfriendly,” adding that Moscow will “have to undertake a set of response measures.”
German and international media outlets reported earlier this week that prosecutors were taking over the case after gathering evidence that “a foreign intelligence agency” was behind the killing.
Many commentators have drawn parallels between Khangoshvili’s assassination and the 2018 poisoning in England of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Russia has denied involvement in either of the incidents.
“What does this have to do with the Russian authorities?” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on December 4.
“These are totally baseless assumptions. The German media is inflating the issue, but this does not mean that's the actual case," Peskov added.
Khangoshvili fought in the Second Chechen War in 1999-2002 against Russian national forces alongside the notorious field commander Shamil Basayev and was reportedly close to Aslan Maskhadov, who had briefly served as president of Chechnya.
The suspect operated under the alias Vadim Adreevich Sokolov using a passport whose number is linked to Russian security services, notably the GRU military intelligence, according to a joint investigation published in August by Der Spiegel, The Insider in Russia, and the British-based open-source investigation group Bellingcat.
The August 30 investigation did not establish the suspect's real identity. But in a statement on December 3, Bellingcat claimed that the suspect who had traveled to Berlin under the Sokolov alias is in reality 54-year-old Vadim Krasikov.
"In June 2013, Krasikov was the key suspect in the murder of a Russian businessman [in Moscow] who had been the subject of several previous assassination attempts," Bellingcat said.
"The murder in Moscow was similar in many respects to the Berlin assassination -- the killer had approached his target on a bicycle, had shot at him with a handgun at close range, both in the back and in the head, and had left on his bike," Bellingcat said. Krasikov grew up in Kazakhstan before spending time in Siberia, Bellingcat claimed.
A separate Bellingcat investigation alleges that three officers of Russia's GRU military intelligence service attempted the murder of Skripal and his daughter with a highly toxic nerve agent.
Two of the three alleged officers are wanted by the British authorities for questioning.
Skripal and his daughter survived the poisoning in Salisbury, England, but a British woman with no connections to Russia died, apparently after accidentally coming into contact with the substance.