German federal prosecutors say they have “sufficient indications” that the Russian state was behind the murder of a Chechen rebel in Berlin, in a case that echoes the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK last year.
In a sign of how the case could send relations between Russia and Germany to a new low, the German foreign ministry said on Wednesday it had expelled two Russian diplomats over the killing and Moscow’s failure to help with the ensuing investigation.
In a statement, the federal prosecutors’ office said that there were “sufficient factual indications” to suggest that the killing of Tornike Kavtarashvili on August 23 was “ordered by the state authorities of the Russian Federation or those of the Chechen Republic”.
Kavtarashvili, who was also known as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, was a Chechen rebel who held Georgian nationality and had been denied asylum in Germany.
The attorney-general’s statement suggests that Kavtarashvili could be the latest in a string of Kremlin political opponents who have been attacked or assassinated abroad in recent years.
In March last year Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the British town of Salisbury with a nerve agent. In September that year, British authorities identified two Russian nationals, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as suspected of poisoning the Skripals, and alleged they were active officers in Russian military intelligence.
On Wednesday the German foreign ministry said that despite “repeated high-level and urgent requests”, the Russian authorities had failed to co-operate adequately with the probe into the murder of Kavtarashvili.
It said the latest request for help had been conveyed in a conversation between Andreas Michaelis, state secretary at Germany’s foreign ministry, and Sergei Nechayev, the Russian ambassador to Berlin, at a meeting on November 20.
The foreign ministry said it still expected “serious and immediate co-operation from the Russian authorities”, especially as Germany’s attorney-general, who handles cases involving national security, had now taken over the investigation into the murder.