Murder in Berlin: Tracks Lead to the Federal Security Service (FSB)

Last year on 23 August Zelimkhan Changoshvili, citizen of Sakartvelo – one of the field commanders, who was fighting against Russian army during second war of Chechnya, was killed in the very centre of Berlin. People say that…

Last year on 23 August Zelimkhan Changoshvili, citizen of Sakartvelo – one of the field commanders, who was fighting against Russian army during second war of Chechnya, was killed in the very centre of Berlin. People say that this former fighter belonged to the circle of comrades of the famous Shamil Basayev, Leader of Chechen movement and Aslan Maskhadov, the third President of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. On Z.Changoshvili’s way from the mosque, a criminal on the bike rode closer to him and fired to his back, then to the head and quickly withdrew.
Two days later the German law enforcement authorities announced that they arrested the suspect – 49 year old Russian citizen Vadim Sokolov. Investigators of this country along other versions considered the version of a political murder and the media quite soon remarked that not a single Russian database, including the passport register, did not include a person with this name and surname and date of birth. This gave rise to suspicions that Russian special services were standing behind Russian special service.      
Independent investigators started to investigate this version without law enforcement authorities, fellows of the portal Bellingcat among them. They managed to find and publish undisputable evidence that so-called ‘Sokolov’ used to have another surname. At the time of a crime he was using a false identity that had been made up at the national level and was obviously linked to the Federal Security Service (FSS) and most probably – also with its military intelligence (GRU).    
In order to draw such conclusions experts of Bellincat had to gather thousands of facts and put them together like a puzzle. Bearing in mind that a lot of these details, although available in open sources, cannot be easily found and reached, possibilities and skills of investigators of this portal should not cast any doubts. Thus, prior to going deeper into the conclusions of the investigation, let’s talk a little bit about what is and what it has done so far.
Specialization of the website of the investigative journalism founded by the British journalist and former blogger in 2014 is checking of facts and collection of information from open sources. It focuses on military conflicts, human rights abuses, criminal underworld, and operations of secret intelligence in getting rid of personas non grata and similar topics.  
In order to make a picture of the reliability of it is enough to make an overview of the history of investigations conducted by this organization, where we can find a number of events that attracted attention of the foreign communities. The first of them is related to the story of the aircraft MH17 of Malaysia Airlines shot down over the territory of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Pro-Russian separatists on 17 July 2014. Then two months were enough for investigators of  Bellingscat to produce evidence that MH17 was shot down with the help of Russian missile system BUK.  Last year in June names of persons related to downing of the jet were published on the website. Here we should add that even intelligence of the U.S. was not able to find out such details.   
Among other well-known investigations of Bellingcat we can mention evidence produced by its investigators about the use of chemical bombs produced in Russia in Syrian civil war and about direct participation in poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England.
Now let’s go back to our investigation in question. Let’s follow its course and let’s see what methods were used by investigators of Mobile phone details were one of the most important sources of information. On the way to Berlin and in Berlin the murderer actually used SIM card registered under the name of Vadim Sokolov, however it was issued only in the middle of August and could tell very little about his steps in preparation to a murder. However, the investigators had previously determined that another person – Vadim Krasikov, whose past was very picturesque, was hiding behind a false Sokolov’s identity.   
It turned out that this person was connected with two killings already: in 2007 in Karelia and in 2013 in Moscow. An international arrest warrant was issued in regards to killing in 2013, however it was cancelled after two years and all entries about this disappeared from all databases. The fact that later the character himself disappeared from all databases gives rise to doubts that special services had something to do with all this.   
Now investigators had to find the phone number of the former Krasikov. Whereas they did not succeed to find a subscriber under such a name, investigators tried to look for any hints about this person in the register of motor vehicles. After they checked to whom this subscriber was calling for several months, they came over the most frequent phone number that could be related to a mysterious Krasikov. Another step was to disclose movement of the phone related to this phone number. Investigators started working on this.   
After checking the statements of phone calls since the beginning of 2019 and his departure to Berlin, investigators determined that minimum eight calls were made to members of the Association of Veterans of Special Forces of FSS. Prior to departure to Berlin quite frequent calls to Eduard Bendersky, Chairman of this Association, were registered. Investigators were particularly interested in the fact that D.Krasikov was talking to this particular person on 3 July on his way from Bryansk where he received falsified documents and on 28 December on his way back from Saint Petersburg where he got a false contract of employment with the company RUST that was enclosed to the Schengen visa application. The last conversation was registered on 13 August three days before V. Krasnikov’s flight to Paris – an intermediate point on his way to Berlin.
Vympel is an elite KGB unit founded in 1981 that was conducting operations in foreign countries. Kidnapping, liberation of hostages, organization of revolutions and liquidation of enemies of the Soviet country were included into its functions. In post-Soviet Russia this unit was named a Department Five of the FSS. Although fighters of this department did not operate abroad officially, the Law on fight with terrorism adopted in 2006 exempted officers from liability for murders committed during anti-terrorist operations.
Eduard Bendersky, the former officer of Special Forces of the FSS, is the owner of several private security companies where former soldiers of Special Forces are employed. In public he often introduces himself as a member of the Department Five. In 2003 when E. Bendersky was not a public figure yet, in letters written by a group of displeased officers of the Special Forces to the daily Novaja Gazeta he was called a representative of Alexander Tichonov, General of the Special Operations Centre of the FSS. 
Investigators give another evidence of V. Krasnikov’s link with the FSS – details of his phone connections to the mobile network towers. In most cases he used to visit in Balashikha district in Moscow where an extremely secret Special Operation Centre is located. His last visit there was registered on 8 August, right before his visit to Berlin. Moreover, on 9 April V. Krasikov arrived at the training centre of Special Operation Forces that was located 60 km away from Moscow. Since then up to 2 April his phone was switched off. This suggests that on these days V. Krasnikov was busy with intense preparations for the upcoming mission. After three days V. Krasikov’s phone was switched off and has not been actually operating since then. Another phone number was activated instead of the previous one that has been connected with V. Sokolov that ‘was born’ in the rooms of the FSS.     
Now investigators were tracking the new phone number. The only phone call was registered from this phone in Russia – to the travel agency and it coincided with the hotel numbers ordered in Paris and Warsaw under the name of V. Sokolov. The phone sent last signals on 17 August – from Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. Namely that evening V. Krasikov left for Paris. 
Investigators failed to find out what so-called Sokolv was doing in Paris for the first two days. It means that his phone either was turned off or details about his contacts were deleted from the databases of the Russian mobile phone operators. Meanwhile on 19 August he was wandering in Paris as a real tourist visiting places of interest there. He was behaving like an ordinary ‘tourist’ in Warsaw, too, where he arrived at noon of 20 August.    
Movement of ‘Sokolov’s’ phone was registered last on 22 August. Then his phone stayed in his hotel room in Warsaw for several days. In the meantime his owner was already on his way to Berlin. Most probably he was travelling by train, since there were no details about his ordered plane tickets. If this is a true version, the murderer reached Berlin in the afternoon of the same day. Less than 24 hours were left until the climax in Tiergarten.
What conclusions did investigators of draw in this story? Firstly, they firmly rejected a purely criminal version of this murder. Secondly, this crime cannot be linked with environment of the leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, since V. Krasikov has never communicated with representatives of his security structures; moreover, these structures were competing and even were antagonistic to the FSS. Thirdly, liquidation of , Z. Changoshvili cannot be linked with a private revenge of officers of Special Operations, since V. Krasikov systematically was acting together with the FSS and visited objects of this service.     
However, the investigators failed to find the answer to the question whether this operation had been planned just by the FSS. Of course, this department played the major role, however the fact that a false contract of employment was issued by the company that is directly related to the Ministry of Defence, gives a rise to see the trace of the military intelligence of GRU. Moreover, (the current Department Five) has had long term cooperation both during the Soviet times and two wars in Chechnya. 
Finally, who V. Krasikov actually is – an officer of the FSS or just a contract murderer recruited by this service? Investigators firmly rejected the second version. According to them, a killer who committed two contract killings before would never be allowed to have frequent visits in the Special Operations Centre of the FSS and other secret objects of this service. Another fact is also unbelievable that such a person would communicate with former or current members of exclusively or the former officer of the Special Forces of GRU.
Other biographical details of V. Krasikov confirmed the version of his links with Special Forces. Let’s say, he received his first passport when he was 27 years old, meanwhile there are no details about his previous identity documents. It is quite possible that prior to receiving a civil passport he used his military identity document, although other explanations of this non-conformity are also probable. Experts of intend to continue the investigation of this story, thus we can hope that soon more secrets in this story will be revealed.     
Aras Lukšas

Voras Online
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