Skripal attack: GRU suspect Mishkin traced to Russian village


10th October, 2018 01:54:53 printer

Skripal attack: GRU suspect Mishkin traced to Russian village


The tiny village of Loyga in the Russian far north is not the kind of place you would expect to be at the centre of an international spy scandal.


With fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, it has rail access but no paved roads. It's too small even to show up on Google Maps.


But Loyga has proved crucial to piecing together the story of the real "Alexander Petrov" - the second man the UK authorities suspect over the Skripal poisoning case in Salisbury.


On Monday the Bellingcat online investigations team announced they had discovered Mr Petrov was actually Dr Alexander Mishkin, born in Loyga, in the Archangel region. So BBC Russian began trawling through Russian social media sites.


They looked for people aged between 29 and 49 who were born in Loyga, and within two hours they had found four who all remembered Alexander Mishkin from their school days and recognised him from the photographs uncovered by Bellingcat and, crucially, from the UK official photo of the Skripal suspect "Petrov".


Former GRU intelligence officer Sergei Skripal - who sold secrets to Britain's MI6 - and his daughter Yulia survived the poisoning with Novichok nerve agent on 4 March, after emergency hospital treatment.


Later Dawn Sturgess, 44, was exposed to the same nerve agent and died in hospital.


UK government sources do not dispute the name - Alexander Mishkin - given by Bellingcat.


Denis Krasnov was born in Loyga and now works for a diamond company in the city of Vologda, also in the Russian far north. He immediately recognised Alexander from the photos. Of the four Loyga residents contacted he was the one who knew the most and agreed to speak by phone to BBC Russian.


"[He] was two classes ahead of me," Mr Krasnov said. "We didn't know each other very well, as we had different groups of friends and lived on opposite sides of the village, but I knew who he was."


Computer games fan

Alexander Mishkin did well at school, he said. He liked video games and music and was a techno fan.


"He liked to play on his Sega games console. He used to organise discos, and his preference was for Western DJs like Mo-Do [from Italy] and E-Type [from Sweden]."


The young Mishkin lived in Loyga with his parents and younger sister Maria. His father was a forestry worker, Mr Krasnov said.


In the late '90s, his parents and sister moved to Lomovatka in the Vologda region, between Archangel and Moscow. Alexander remained in Loyga with his grandmother to finish school, Mr Krasnov said.


BBC Russian tracked down the parents' marriage certificate: Yevgeny and Tatiana Mishkin were married in 1978 in Loyga.


At one point Yevgeny, now aged 63, was director of the Lomovatsky Forestry Enterprise.


BBC Russian understands that Tatiana, now 59, worked at the same company at least until 2007. According to our investigations, she still owns a flat in Lomovatka. She did not respond to calls from the BBC.


In the mid-2000s, Yevgeny and Alexander Mishkin bought an apartment in the far-north city of Murmansk but they sold it a few years later.


Denis Krasnov lost touch with Alexander when the two left school. He remembers that Mr Mishkin enrolled in a military academy.


"I haven't seen him for 15 years. I think he lives in Moscow now."


In fact BBC Russian discovered that in 2007, Mr Mishkin was registered as living at 12 Academic Lebedev Street in St Petersburg. According to Google Maps, the building is next to the Military Medical Academy, where most Russian military doctors do their training.


Bellingcat reports that Mr Petrov/Mishkin graduated from one of the "elite military medical academies", where he trained to be a naval doctor. It was at medical school that he first caught the eye of senior commanders.


His story in many ways mirrors the career path of the other Skripal suspect, Anatoly Chepiga - alias Ruslan Boshirov. He was also from a small, remote village in a far-flung part of Russia.


Mr Chepiga was born in Beryozovka, 8,000km (5,000 miles) east of Moscow, near the Chinese border. Again, it appears, joining the military offered an escape from poverty.


Top Russian honour

By 2010, according to our investigations, Mr Mishkin had re-registered at an address on Khoroshevskoye Highway in Moscow, which also houses the headquarters of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.


Denis Krasnov remembers hearing that Mr Mishkin had been awarded a prestigious Hero of Russia medal. "Lots of people in Loyga were talking about it at the time."


According to Bellingcat, the medal was bestowed on him by President Vladimir Putin, long before the Salisbury mission.


Mr Chepiga - caught on Salisbury CCTV cameras with Mr Mishkin - had also received that award.


The publicity has prompted other former and current residents of Loyga to get in touch with the BBC. Their village may be tiny but now it has a big story to tell.