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Second Skripal poisoning suspect was decorated as a hero by Putin in 2014: Bellingcat

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By Lindsay Rempel  & Cristina Abellan-Matamoros
"Ruslan Boshirov" and "Alexander Petrov" in an interview with Russia Today
"Ruslan Boshirov" and "Alexander Petrov" in an interview with Russia Today   -   Copyright  RT/Handout via REUTERS

The other half of a Russian mystery seems to have been solved. The second man accused of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, Alexander Mishkin, was decorated as a hero by Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2014, said investigative group Bellingcat.

On Monday, the site revealed that the man with alias "Alexander Petrov" was, in fact, Mishkin, a military doctor in the Russian Intelligence Service commonly known as the GRU.

At an event in the British parliament, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins and researcher Christo Grozev said they found out Mishkin took part in military operations in Ukraine in 2014 and was given the title 'Hero of the Russian Federation' by Putin that same year.

Last month, the same website also identified the first suspect as Anatoliy Chepiga, a decorated colonel in the Russian military. Both men are allegedly Russian secret intelligence agents — but both have denied this is true, claiming they travelled to Salisbury as tourists. Vladimir Putin himself has also joined in the denial after British PM Theresa May claimed the men's orders came from Russian authorities — Putin said the men had been identified by the Kremlin and they were civilians.

Bellingcat says that Mishkin matriculated at one of Russia’s elite Military Medical Academies, and completed training as a military doctor for the Russian naval armed forces. He was then recruited by the GRU. Though there was apparently less online information about Mishkin than Chepiga, the website does show a picture of a passport it claims is Mishkin's.

Just last month the first man was identified and his backstory exposed by the same website — they allege Anatoliy Chepiga is the recipient of the 'Hero of the Russian Federation' award, the country's highest military honour that would traditionally have been awarded by the President himself. This of course implies that not only did Vladimir Putin know who Chepiga was all along, the two men had actually met in the past.

But Russian denials were swift.

“There is no data that the Hero of the Russian Federation has been awarded to [anyone named Anatoliy Chepiga,” said Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova also dismissed the report, saying on her Facebook page that it was all part of an "information campaign". Neither of the men have appeared publicly since their interview with Russia Today in September, and though there's a European arrest warrant out for both of them, it's unlikely either will ever set foot on EU soil and the likelihood of them facing prosecution is low.