BBC | Skripal poisoning: Third Russian suspect 'commanded attack'

A senior Russian military intelligence officer commanded the team suspected of the Salisbury poisoning.

GRU Maj. General Denis Sergeyev.

Details of the "third man's" trip to London in March 2018 have been assembled after the investigative website obtained his phone records and shared them with the BBC. In February, Bellingcat published information identifying Denis Sergeyev as a man who traveled to London under the false identity of Sergei Fedotov. They also established details of his career and connection to his country's military intelligence service, known by its Russian acronym, the GRU, and linked him to a 2015 suspected poisoning in Bulgaria. Newsnight understands that Denis Sergeyev holds the rank of major general in the GRU. The other two men (Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga) are colonels. The pattern of his communications while in the UK indicates that Maj Gen Sergeyev liaised with officers in Moscow. Independently, sources speaking to Newsnight have pointed to Maj Gen Sergeyev being the operational commander. The developments come as Prime Minister Theresa May called for an end to Russia's "irresponsible and destabilizing activity", describing the Salisbury poisoning as a "truly despicable act". Russia denies any involvement in the attack.

Bellingcat has established that while travelling to the UK and on all of the other operational trips he made during 2017-18, Maj Gen Sergeyev only spoke to a single telephone number, a Russian "ghost mobile" believed to be his connection to GRU headquarters. Although it resembles a pay as you go SIM, this number produces no cell tower or IMEI (the unique serial identifying the handset using a SIM card) information, and has for years remained unregistered to any individual, a violation of Russian law. Maj Gen Sergeyev took 10 calls from the Russian number while in London - and phoned it himself before departing Paddington on Sunday 4 March. While he was booked to leave on the same flight that evening as Colonels Chepiga and Mishkin, it is now believed that Maj Gen Sergeyev took an earlier flight home from Heathrow that afternoon. He left about an hour after police say the others planted the Novichok at Mr Skripal's home. Bellingcat's coup in obtaining his phone records follows its success in accessing travel, passport, and motoring databases for the suspects. Separately, journalists from the BBC Russian Service discovered that Maj Gen Sergeyev's wife works as a teacher in Moscow and that the couple listed the address of the GRU training academy as their own home on an official registry.
At the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Putin again denied that Russia had anything to do with the Skripal poisonings, despite a rather large cache of evidence that proves otherwise.

Related: Telegraph | 'Third man' commanded team behind Salisbury poisoning