Third Russian linked to Salisbury poisoning visited UK and Catalonia before key votes, report claims
Posted February 14, 2019 8:19 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2019 5:31 a.m. EST
CNN — New details have emerged about a third Russian linked to the 2018 Salisbury poisonings by the investigative website Bellingcat. According to travel records revealed yesterday by Bellingcat and seen by CNN, the same man appears to have flown in and out of the UK and Catalonia multiple times in the run up to their referendums.
Bellingcat claims that a man traveling under the alias Sergey Vyacheslavovich Fedotov—a name they claim was assigned to him by Russia's GRU military intelligence unit—flew into Britain from Moscow on March 2, 2018.
Bellingcat says he travelled the same day as two other agents, whose real names were Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin. All three had return tickets to leave the UK on March 4, the day former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned. Fedotov skipped his flight, Bellingcat claims, and made his way back to Moscow via Rome instead.
The man known as Fedotov was born in Kazakhstan in 1973 and is married with an adult daughter, according to Bellingcat. He reportedly attended Russia's elite Military Diplomatic Academy, and would likely now be a high-ranking GRU officer given his assignments and years of service, says Bellingcat, though the group could not ascertain his current status within GRU. CNN has been unable to reach Fedotov for comment.
Cross-checking multiple travel record databases provided by whistleblowers, including flight bookings and border crossings, Bellingcat's information shows Fedotov spent six days in the UK at the end of March 2016. That's just over three months before the country held its referendum on EU membership.
He appears to have returned to London for a four-day visit on July 14, says Bellingcat — less than a month after the Brexit vote.
The data, seen by CNN, also appear to show that Fedotov made two trips to Barcelona: One in November 2016 and another between September 29 and October 9, 2017, at the time of Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain.
Sensitive time in UK
CNN reported last week that Fedotov visited Bulgaria twice in 2015, at the same time as a Bulgarian arms trader and his son were admitted to hospital on two separate occasions after having been poisoned, prompting a joint investigation between UK and Bulgarian authorities, according to comments made in Sofia this week by Bulgaria's General Prosecutor.
"The investigation team continues to pursue a number of lines of enquiry, including identifying any other suspects who may have been involved in carrying out or planning the attack," UK's Metropolitan Police Service told CNN, but declined to discuss further details.
Fedotov also appears to have visited several countries, including Turkey, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Italy, France and Switzerland between 2012 and 2018, according to Bellingcat data.
The Kremlin dismissed the reports during a phone call with journalists on Friday morning in Moscow.
"We'll comment on this is the same way as we did with the first person, second person, all of those accused of these things," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "Nothing changes here. And our approach to this remains the same."
When Belllingcat first reported about the existence of Fedotov, and his alleged visits to Bulgaria, Peskov said last week his office had seen the report, but had no reason to believe its veracity, telling reporters, "We don't know how far this corresponds with reality, whether it's real at all. We don't know what the report's authors based their work on -- how competent they are -- who they are -- and whether this is true at all."
Peskov also questioned why the information was emerging now. On a call with reporters, Peskov said: "There is only one question really -- how is it possible that poisoning by some military grade agent in Europe went unnoticed in 2015 and why are we only now finding out about this?"
Responding to Bellingcat's report, Stephen Kinnock, a member of Parliament for the UK's opposition Labour Party and who sits on the country's Committee on Exiting the European Union, told CNN: "For many years now the Kremlin's foreign policy has been based on a strategy of 'divide and rule.'
"There is incontrovertible evidence of armies of Russian social media bots being deployed to influence domestic political agendas across the EU and the US.
"The new information that has now come to light about the activities of this GRU agent reinforces the need for an in-depth inquiry into malign Russian influence on our body politic," he said.
News of Fedotov's visits to the UK come at a sensitive time for the country just six weeks before March 29, when Britain is set to break away from the EU.
Last year the National Crime Agency announced it was investigating the Brexit campaign donor Arron Banks, a businessman with ties to Russia's ambassador to London, amid suspicions his campaign may have obtained money from "impermissible sources."
Banks' support for Leave EU in the run up to the 2016 vote made him the biggest individual donor in British political history. He has always maintained the $12 million he gave to the unofficial campaign was his money. In a statement to CNN, he said he never received any foreign donations. He has also repeatedly denied accepting any offers of money or other business deals from Russia.
The timing of the revelation is also important for Spain for it comes days after 12 Catalan separatist leaders went on trial for holding what Madrid deemed an illegal referendum.
Catalonia voted on October 1, 2017, to break away from Spain and subsequently declared its independence, but the result was staunchly rebuffed by the Spanish government, despite violent protests that ensued.