Author Topic: Kremlin Wetwork Reaches Germany  (Read 198598 times)

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Offline 666

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Kremlin Wetwork Reaches Germany
« on: August 30, 2019, 11:20:00 AM »
No major European country is as enamored with Vladimir Putin’s Russia as Germany. There, even the most serious Kremlin violations of international laws and norms will find defenders across the political spectrum. Pro-Russian views are so commonplace in Germany that there’s term, Russlandversteher (“Russia-understander”), for those who incline to Moscow’s viewpoint.

The perennial challenge facing Russlandversteher, however, is that Putin’s regime keeps resetting the bar with its outrageous conduct. Assassinations abroad perpetrated by Kremlin killers, most infamously the near-murder of the Russian defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England with a weapons-grade nerve agent in March 2018, strain the ability of even Putin’s most ardent German fans to defend. Now, they face the even more embarrassing prospect that Russia has perpetrated a state-sanctioned assassination, what Kremlin spies term “wetwork,” right in Germany’s capital.

The crime occurred last Friday at midday in Kleiner Tiergarten park in the heart of Berlin. A 40-year-old Georgian national named Zelimkhan Kangoshvili, a pious Muslim, was walking to pray at his local mosque. He had entered Germany in early 2017, claiming asylum for himself, his wife, and their five children, which was granted after German authorities determined that Kangoshvili was neither a terrorist nor an extremist.

Two minutes to noon last Friday, as Kangoshvili was pacing to his mosque, his killer approached him from behind and shot him multiple times in the head at close range. Death came quickly. Several witnesses attested that the killer fled at once on a bicycle. He didn’t get far, dumping a plastic bag in the nearby Spree river which turned out to contain the murder weapon – a Glock 26 with a silencer – as well as a wig. Two alert 17-year-old witnesses notified the police, who found the killer hiding behind bushes with a scooter which was intended to facilitate a getaway that never happened.

The suspect was taken into custody without delay. A 49-year-old Russian national, he has been identified only as Vadim S. by German police. Investigators were immediately suspicious of his motives since the suspect possessed a large amount of cash as well as paprika, which is used by professional criminals to throw police dogs off their scent.

The murder weapon, a so-called Baby Glock with a silencer, is favored by professional killers, while the method of execution, the vaunted “double-tap” to the head at close range, indicated this was no random crime or robbery gone wrong.

That the Kangoshvili killing was a mafia hit loomed as a serious possibility. Chechen criminal syndicates control much of the drug trade in Berlin, as in several German cities, and the victim was a member of Georgia’s Kist minority, who are ethnic kin of the neighboring Chechens. However, with help from German intelligence, detectives learned that Vadim S. had gotten to Berlin via an unusually circuitous route.

The murder suspect entered the Schengen zone in Paris, having applied for his visa in Russia in late July, arriving by air from Moscow. He then made his way to Germany to kill his target. It’s not yet known if Vadim S. visited other countries before the Berlin murder, but German police believe that he surveilled Kangoshvili before shooting him. This all smacks unmistakably of spycraft more than mafia methods.

Moreover, Kangoshvili, who lived in Germany under multiple aliases for protection, was a wanted man in Russia. He feared for his life since enemies, presumably on Kremlin orders, tried to assassinate him before, including in Georgia in 2015. A German friend asserted that Kangoshvili had received threatening messages via SMS and WhatsApp before his murder.

Russia’s Federal Security Service, the powerful FSB, placed Kangoshvili’s name on a public list of known terrorists, asserting that the wanted man was an Islamist militant. Although the victim was pious Muslim who had fought in the Second Chechen War against Russian forces in the early-aughts, Kangoshvili’s friends insist that he was no jihadist radical, a view that’s confirmed by German security services who approved his asylum in their country.

German authorities have offered unsubtle hints that last Friday’s murder was a political assassination, not a mob hit or random crime. Russia’s increasingly rogue military intelligence arm, known as GRU, has been mentioned by German investigators. GRU operatives tried to murder the Skripals last year, while that spy service has become Vladimir Putin’s weapon of choice for wetwork and related unsavory secret activities around the world.

Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s protégé and Chechen strongman, must also be considered a short-list suspect. Kadyrov boasts of killing his enemies wherever they may be and several Chechens who got on his bad side have indeed been assassinated abroad, particularly in Turkey, over the last decade – attacks that Western counterintelligence experts assess are Kadyrov’s handiwork.

The Kangoshvili killing is reminiscent of the assassination of Umar Israilov, another veteran of the Second Chechen War and Kadyrov enemy who was gunned down in broad daylight in Vienna at the beginning of 2009. Two years later, three Chechens were convicted of Israilov’s murder and Austrian police had no doubt that Kadyrov stood behind the crime.

Regardless of who exactly ordered the murder of Zelimkhan Kangoshvili, that his killer’s trail leads to the Russian Federation does not appear to be in any doubt. It remains to be seen how energetic German investigators will be in attempting to determine who exactly sent Vadim S. to Berlin and why.

This is an awkward moment for Germany’s prominent Russlandversteher, who have denied and explained away the Putin regime’s crimes at home and abroad. Now, in a bloody act that’s reminiscent of the Cold War – when secret police killers from the East roamed West Germany without excessive interference from the local authorities – the unpleasant nature of Russia’s government has been forced onto the front pages of German newspapers, at least for a while. If Berlin doesn’t take the Kangoshvili assassination seriously, this won’t be the last episode of Kremlin wetwork to be visited on German soil.

Offline 666

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Re: Kremlin Wetwork Reaches Germany
« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2019, 11:24:49 AM »
where have been BfV and BND? where was Germany's counterintelligence? This looks super awkward at the moment, as this operation was run in one of the biggest and well-known spy-cities of Germany. There are a lot of Questions. No operation is done in a few days without planning.

Offline 666

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Re: Kremlin Wetwork Reaches Germany
« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2019, 08:16:41 AM »
Suspected Assassin In The Berlin Killing Used Fake Identity Documents

Photograph of Vadim A. Sokolov from his visa application papers

A joint investigation between Bellingcat, the German newspaper Der Spiegel, and The Insider (Russia), has established that the assassin travelled to Berlin via France under a validly issued, non-biometric Russian passport in the name of Vadim Andreevich Sokolov, born in August 1970. Despite the fact that he used a legitimate passport, we have determined that no such person exists in Russia’s sprawling, comprehensive national citizen database. In addition, no trace of such a person exists in a trove of hundreds of leaked residential databases, previously obtained and aggregated by Bellingcat. This discovery makes Russia’s claims that the killer is not connected to the Russian state implausible, as no person in Russia is in a position to obtain a valid Russian passport under a fake identity without the involvement of the state bureaucratic and security apparatus.

In addition, we have identified that the address given by the killer in his visa application as his residence in St. Petersburg does not exist. This glaring inconsistency, and the generally blank digital and data footprint of the Russian “ghost traveler” raises serious questions as to how and why he was able to obtain a multi-entry Schengen visa issued by the French consulate in Moscow.

The Russian Passport database is a centralized, comprehensive database containing residential address and passport data of all Russian citizens — including the full history of prior personal identity documents — maintained by Russia’s Ministry of Interior. Likewise, no presence of this person was found in another police-maintained database that tracks domestic and international travel of all Russian citizens, nor in the traffic police’s database of driving license owners. We have also searched hundreds of previously leaked offline passport, residential-address, insurance and employment databases, including ones with data as recent as 2018, and have found no evidence of a person with such personal data.

At the same time, for this man to have travelled via airplane from Moscow to Paris on an ordinary passport, he would have had to go through passport control, where his passport would have been scanned and automatically checked against the Russian Passport database. Any inconsistency — such as a missing record in that database — would have triggered the border officer’s alarm system, and the person would not have been authorized to proceed. There can be only two feasible scenarios that explain this inconsistency: either “Vadim Sokolov” was known to border officials as an undercover operative, and they were instructed to let him proceed, or alternatively, at the time of the trip — that is, on 31 July 2019 — Sokolov was still in the Russia Passport database.

Both scenarios are technically possible. The Russian immigration (border-control) system is supervised by the Federal Security Service (FSB), thus special arrangements could have been made for “Sokolov” to bypass the routine airport verification procedure, especially if the operative was FSB-linked.

Equally possible, and more consistent with prior practice, would be the second scenario, in which a cover identity was fully created for “Sokolov” — including a database entry in the Russian passport system — but was purged from Russian government databases shortly after news of the arrest in Berlin broke. In the case of Skripal-linked GRU officers previously identified by Bellingcat, the three undercover GRU operatives originally had dual presence in the Russia Passport database: both under their real and under their cover identity. Shortly after their public outing by Bellingcat, however, both their undercover and their true identities (including their immediate family members data) were purged from the Russian Passport and other government-run databases, creating several “ghost” families with no passport, residential ownership, or even tax information (in fact, apartments previously confirmed by us as owned by Col. Chepiga and Col. Mishkin, the main Skripal suspects, are now listed as owned by “the Russian state”).

Whether the first or the second scenario was used in the case of “Sokolov” might provide a clue as to which of the two main, and often competing, security services are linked to this brazen assassination operation. As outlined below, both agencies, the FSB and the GRU, would have felt entitled to pursue such an extrajudicial killing, albeit for different reasons.

What is certain, however, is that the cover identity behind “Vadim Sokolov” was created very recently, and was most likely custom-made for the specific operation in Berlin. This can be inferred from the absence of any digital footprint on this identity in previously leaked databases (for comparison, both “Boshirov” and “Petrov” — the cover identities behind the Skripal suspects — did show up in older offline databases). This conclusion is also consistent with the unusually recent date of issuance for “Sokolov”’s passport – 18 July 2019, only ten days before the planned trip. We have also verified — via sources with access to non-Russian airline booking databases — that a person with this name and birth date has not traveled to any European destination in the past 6 years, nor has obtained visas to any Schengen states. All of this implies either an ad-hoc operation following newly obtained information on the target’s whereabouts, or the use of a “single-use”, non-staff assassin. As discussed below, this latter hypothesis may prove true due to the certain peculiarities regarding the man now in German custody.