Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal attends a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in Moscow on August 9, 2006. Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent whose mysterious collapse in England sparked concerns of a possible poisoning by Moscow, has been living in Britain since a high-profile spy swap in 2010. Police were probing his exposure to an unknown substance, which left him unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury and saw media draw parallels to the case of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-spy who died of radioactive polonium poisoning in 2006. / AFP PHOTO / Kommersant Photo / Yuri SENATOROV / Russia OUT
The Kremlin said Friday it was difficult to separate truth from fiction in media reports after a respected investigative group revealed the identity of a suspect in the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal.
“Over the past months a lot of news about the Skripals’ affair has appeared in British media and media in other countries,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“No one can truly figure out which news is fake and which is true,” he told reporters, doubting that it was possible to check the identities of the people mentioned in media reports.
On Wednesday, Bellingcat, the British based investigative group, said that the real name of Ruslan Boshirov, one of the two men accused by British authorities of poisoning Skripal and his daughter Yulia, was Anatoly Chepiga.
The 39-year-old is a military intelligence colonel decorated with the country’s top award, the Hero of Russia, Bellingcat said.
The report included a passport photo of Chepiga from 2003 which resembles a younger version of the photo of Boshirov released by British authorities.
Peskov said the Kremlin no longer wanted to discuss the subject with journalists, saying the fact that someone may resemble Boshirov did not prove anything.
“I beg your pardon but we have 10 Stalins and 15 Lenins running around Red Square,” Peskov said, referring to street performers impersonating Russia’s Soviet leaders.
“They all look extremely similar to the originals.”
Peskov also denied that the suspect was awarded the country’s top award.
“We have checked it. I have no information about a man with such a name being awarded.”
Chepiga was bestowed the Hero of Russia award in 2014 for “conducting a peace-keeping mission,” a likely reference to the Ukraine conflict.
Bellingcat said it was “highly likely” that Putin knew Chepiga because he personally hands out these awards.
Only a handful of such awards are given each year, often posthumously.
A respected Russian broadsheet, Kommersant, said Thursday that several residents of a small far eastern village where Chepiga’s family used to live, identified him as one of the suspects wanted by Britain.