A top Russian military intelligence officer led the team suspected of the Salisbury poisoning, according to new reports.
Denis Sergeyev was identified in February as the ‘third man’ who travelled to the UK in March 2018 under the false name Sergei Fedotov.
Now, new information suggests he held the rank of major general and took the role of ‘operational commander’ for the mission, liaising with top figures in Moscow.
RED, first two suspects – March 2: Gatwick, to Victoria, then Waterloo and on to the City Stay Hotel. March 3: Waterloo, to City Stay, to Salisbury. March 4: Skripals’ home (Wilton Road), leave on a flight to Moscow. BLUE, third suspect – March 2: Gatwick to Paddington. March 3: Embankment Station to Salisbury. March 4: Paddington to Salisbury and then the Skripal’s home (Wilton Road) before flying back to Moscow
Sergeyev’s involvement in the poisoning was uncovered by the investigative website Bellingcat, who worked with
Maj Gen Sergeyev landed at Heathrow on the morning on March 2 and left two days later, after Novichok nerve agent was left on the front door handle of the Skripal’s home in Salisbury.
Bellingcat’s analysis of position data from his phone shows he took a room near Paddington station in west London, while his alleged accomplices Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov stayed in Bow, east London.
Denis Sergeev (pictured), a high-ranking Russian GRU officer, was today identified as the third suspect in the kripal poisoning case
Maj Gen Sergeyev avoided wi-fi networks but it thought to have used WhatApp or another encrypted messaging service to speak with Boshirov and Petrov.
On the morning of March 3, he went towards the Thames Embankment, where a correlation of his phone data and police information about the location of the other two suspects suggests there was a 40-minute window when he could have met them.
Shortly after this alleged meeting, Boshirov and Petrov left by train to Salisbury for the strike on March 4, which claimed the life of bystander Dawn Sturgess.
Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were contaminated but recovered, as did Det Sgt Nick Bailey, and Sturgess’ partner Charlie Rowley.
During Maj Gen Sergeyev’s time in the UK he spoke to a single Russian phone number, a ‘ghost mobile’ believed to be connected to the headquarters of the GRU spy agency.
Ruslan Boshirov (left) and Alexander Petrov (right) were accused of travelling to the UK to murder Mr Skripal with novichok last year
The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal (right) in Salisbury, Wiltshire, on March 4 left the Russian former double agent and his daughter Yulia (left) critically ill
The officer had visited the UK before in 2016 and 2017, when he could have planned the mission.
Responding to the revelations about Sergeyev, the Metropolitan Police said: ‘The investigation team continues to pursue a number of lines of inquiry, including identifying any other suspects who may have been involved in carrying out or planning the attack.
‘We are not prepared to discuss further details of what remains an ongoing investigation.’
Police stand guard at the bottom of the road where Mr Skripal lives in Salisbury last March
Who is the ‘third man’ and what was his role in the Russian military?
Denis Sergeev is a graduate of an elite military academy in Moscow that churns out top intelligence officers.
The 45-year-old is thought to have left the UK on the same day as the nerve agent attack on former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.
He was also linked to the botched poisoning of an arms dealer in Bulgaria in 2015. And he is said to have been the boss of several sham companies and connected to a Russian bank loan of more than $1million.
Sergeev was also in Bulgaria in April 2015 when the Bulgarian arms manufacturer Emilian Gebrev (pictured) collapsed in Sofia after mysteriously being poisoned, it was claimed
Sergeev’s true identity and details of his movements were revealed by investigative website Bellingcat.
Using the cover name Sergey Fedotov, he arrived at Heathrow on March 2 last year hours before Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga – the two lead suspects in the Salisbury poisoning.
All three are thought to serve in the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU.
Sergeev was checked-in on a Heathrow flight to Russia on March 4 – the day the Skripals were found collapsed on a bench in Salisbury – but instead aborted his travel plans and made his way to Moscow via Rome.