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POLITICS

Same-serial killers. Igor Girkin, Navalny's poisoners, and “Bicycle Assassin” are linked by FSB-issued passports

As The Insider and Bellingcat found out, the former «DNR Defense Minister» Igor Girkin (Strelkov), who called himself an «FSB colonel in reserve,» used FSB-supplied passports in an assumed name for many years after returning to Russia. Moreover, by the specific FSB-linked passport series, it is possible to trace a connection between Girkin and the two Navalny poisoners, as well as with the Vympel special forces officer Vadim Krasikov, known as the « bicycle assassin», who killed Chechen refugee Khangoshvili in Berlin. A passport of the special series had also been issued to the former «LNR» leader Igor Plotnitsky, although in his case it was not linked to the FSB, but rather to hackers from the GRU. It was possible to uncover those connections thanks to the wives: Girkin and Plotnitsky used their fake names to reserve plane tickets together with their wives, and Krasikov's wife herself obtained fake documents when the authorities decided to hide her after her husband was arrested in Berlin.

ALL CARDS
  • How Igor Girkin was «exposed» by his wife

  • How the Bicycle Assassin's wife was «exposed»

  • Navalny's poisoners

  • How Igor Plotnitsky was «exposed» by his wife

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How Igor Girkin was «exposed» by his wife

At the very beginning of Russia's military aggression in Ukraine, Igor Girkin (who uses the pseudonym Strelkov) was at the cutting edge of events: he arrived in Crimea with a group of armed militants back on February 21, 2014, and, by his own admission, they forced local deputies into the hall at gunpoint to vote for a referendum on secession.

After the «referendum,» he left Crimea, but on the night of April 11-12, he led a group of more than fifty armed fighters which crossed the Ukrainian border near the Donetsk region, seized the administrative buildings in Slavyansk (Donetsk region), and on behalf of the «Donbass militia» declared the creation of a «Donetsk People's Republic.» Up until August, he led the militants in the Donetsk region, after which, as he himself explained to The Insider, he lost the Kremlin's support and was replaced with Zakharchenko on Surkov's orders.

During his first press conference in Donbass, Girkin stated he had the rank of FSB colonel until March 31, 2013, after which he was «discharged from the unit.» He said the same thing about himself in one of his emails, which became public after the contents of Girkin's mailbox (available to The Insider) was posted online by hackers from the Anonymous International in May 2014. After returning from Donbass, Girkin often criticized the course of the military operation in Ukraine and Surkov personally, when the latter was still in charge of Ukraine).

Photo of Girkin's ID card as the head of the FSB branch in the Chechen Republic   First published by his closest associate Mikhail Polynkov
Photo of Girkin's ID card as the head of the FSB branch in the Chechen Republic First published by his closest associate Mikhail Polynkov

However, as The Insider and Bellingcat found out, after his return to Russia, Girkin had been actively using his cover ID – the internal Russian passport issued in the name of «Sergey Runov.»

On December 17, 2014, Girkin celebrated his 44th birthday by marrying a 21-year-old Donbass native Miroslava Reginskaya in Moscow. Four days later, the newlyweds appeared at a New Year's event for refugee children in Rostov-on-Don. The domestic flights database shows that when Reginskaya flew from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don on December 20 and then back two days later, she booked tickets together with Sergei Viktorovich Runov, born May 12, 1970. «Runov» was the surname of Girkin's maternal grandfather. According to numerous databases, a person with that name and date of birth does not actually exist.

Other trips by «Sergei Runov» can also be compared against Girkin's public appearances outside of Moscow, many of which he made in order to promote his Novorossiya Public Movement. «Sergei Runov» usually made flight reservations jointly with Reginskaya, who herself also worked in the Novorossiya organization as her husband's personal assistant. For example, on the night of January 29-30, 2015, they booked a flight from Moscow to Novosibirsk together. The next day, Girkin held a press conference in Novosibirsk and gave an interview on local television. Sergei Runov and Reginskaya's return flight was booked for the evening of March 1, and the next day local media reported that Girkin had left Novosibirsk.

Another example: «Sergei Runov» and Reginskaya booked a morning flight from Moscow to Perm on March 12, 2015. Later that day, Girkin held a press conference there to introduce the new Perm branch of the Novorossiya organization. Two days later, Girkin gave a similar press conference in Yekaterinburg - and then Reginskaya and «Sergei Runov» had a return flight from Yekaterinburg to Moscow booked for 7:50 pm.

Girkin at a press conference in Yekaterinburg on March 14, 2015
Girkin at a press conference in Yekaterinburg on March 14, 2015

It remains unclear when exactly the passport in the name of «Sergei Runov» was first issued. According to the Russian Magistral database, the passport was first used for buying a train ticket from Moscow to St. Petersburg on November 25-26, 2014 (a video interview with Girkin on the local TV channel «St. Petersburg» came out a day later), that is, three months after Girkin left Donbass. The passport number suggests it should have been issued back in 2002 or 2003, but since old blanks are often used for cover identities, one cannot be certain.

What is certain, however, is that the Russian security services had reissued Girkin's passport in Runov's name at least once. It happened sometime after «Sergei Runov» turned 45 (the age at which Russian citizens are required to obtain a new internal passport).

Girkin's last known flight with the «Sergei Runov» passport was from Moscow to Stavropol on February 14, 2016 with a return ticket for three days later, although there may have been other trips that we are not aware of. Girkin told The Insider he wouldn't comment on his cover passport, and Reginskaya hung up after listening to The Insider's question.

Girkin could have been given a cover passport by both the FSB and the GRU. But a search for passports with numbers similar to the «Runov» passport in the fights database revealed six more fake Russian internal passports of the same series, with some of their holders identified as FSB officers by The Insider and Bellingcat. And those officers are very remarkable.

How the Bicycle Assassin's wife was «exposed»

One of the passports of the «Girkin» series was issued in the name of a certain «Anatoly Yashin», who in 2016 flew to Minsk with a fellow traveler, who also used a fake passport in the name of Alexei Kornilov to book a plane ticket. The real identity of «Kornilov» has not yet been established, but his passport series is also interesting - it includes, for example, a passport in the name of «Ekaterina Zotova.» Earlier The Insider and Bellingcat established that the passport in the name of «Ekaterina Zotova» was issued to the wife of the FSB hitman Vadim Krasikov, after he had been caught in Germany. The Insider and Bellingcat have previously established that Vadim Krasikov, also known as the «bicycle assassin», served in the FSB special forces Vympel unit. Before he killed the Chechen refugee Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin, he and his colleagues from Vympel had taken part in several murders of businessmen in Russia. After his arrest in Berlin, the FSB gave his wife a fake passport and took her to Crimea.

Navalny's poisoners

Another passport was issued in the name of «Artem Vinogradov,» who in March 2015 reserved a plane ticket for the same flight with «Mikhail Stepanov,» a cover name for Mikhail Shvets, one of the members of the FSB poisoning squad, who participated in the poisoning of Alexei Navalny with Novichok. In May-October 2014, «Artem Vinogradov» flew together with «Bulat Rinatovich Akhmetov» (born on 06.03.1987) - apparently, the cover name of the FSB officer Bulat Rinatovich Akhmatyanov (born on 26.03.1987), who later died in Syria, after getting blown up on a land mine.

The passport re-issued in the name of «Sergei Runov» also has an interesting series. One of the passports with similar series was issued in the name of «Mikhail Petrov,» who booked a flight from Moscow to Rostov for January 14, 2016 together with «Evgeny Chichagin,» whose passport number in turn is close to the number of the fake passport held by Shvets. Both of them flew with «Ivan Artemov,» whose passport number differs by just one digit from that of «Alexei Frolov,» a cover name for one of Navalny's key poisoners, Alexei Aleksandrov.

Alexei Alexandrov, aka "Frolov" - the person who applied Novichok to Navalny's underwear
Alexei Alexandrov, aka "Frolov" - the person who applied Novichok to Navalny's underwear

How Igor Plotnitsky was «exposed» by his wife

One of the key leaders of the «separatists» in the early years of the conflict in Donbass was Ukrainian citizen Igor Venediktovich Plotnitsky (born June 24, 1964), who served as head of the so-called LNR for more than three years - until the end of 2017. In that capacity, he was one of the signatories to the 2014-2015 Minsk Agreements.

A former Soviet Army officer with the rank of major and a former civil servant, Plotnitsky first came to the forefront as the first commander of the «Zarya battalion,» which showed up in his native Luhansk in April-May 2014 (the battalion ceased to exist by late 2014, when its units were incorporated into the official «LNR People's Militia»). He was appointed defense minister of the «LNR» on May 21, 2014 and «elected» as «LNR» head in the republic's November 2, 2014 «general elections», which were supported by Russia but condemned as illegitimate by Ukraine and the West.

Under Plotnitsky the «LNR» was characterized by authoritarian rule, widespread corruption, and complete dependence on neighboring Russia. Plotnitsky's stated position was that the «LNR» would eventually join Russia through a referendum similar to the one held in Crimea in 2014.

Plotnitsky's cover passport was also revealed due to the same mistake as Girkin's: he used it to buy plane tickets together with his wife Larisa Plotnitskaya (who reportedly passed away in 2020).

The flight database shows that on November 7, 2014, Plotnitskaya flew from Rostov-on-Don to Moscow with the Russian citizen Igor Vladimirovich Plotnikov, whose birth date is listed as June 24, 1964 - the same date as Plotnitsky's. The exact reason for this trip is unknown, but it is noteworthy that Plotnitsky had been appointed head of the «LNR» only three days before. In addition, flight records indicate that his then-colleague Alexander Zakharchenko, who was sworn in as head of the «DNR» on the same day as Plotnitsky, also flew from Rostov-on-Don to Moscow shortly after the inauguration, which also suggests that those trips were most likely business trips.

The earliest use by Plotnitsky of the passport issued to «Igor Plotnikov» was for flying from Rostov-on-Don to Moscow on September 4, 2014, that is, the day before he appeared in Minsk with Zakharchenko to sign the Minsk Protocol. He also used the cover passport to fly the same route on September 18, and the next day Plotnitsky and Zakharchenko arrived in Minsk for the second time to sign a memorandum in addition to the Minsk Protocol.

In a conversation with The Insider, Plotnitsky said he did not remember where exactly he had travelled to in 2014, but he was certain he had always used a passport in his name when flying.

Plotnitsky's passport belonged to the same range of numbers as the passports used by known members of the GRU. For example, the passport with a number smaller than «Plotnikov»'s by one - 4514500473 - in the name of Nikolai Konstantinovich Alekseev (born 07.04.1980) was used by a GRU officer in the Netherlands during the failed cyber operation against the OPCW in 2018.

Thus, Plotnitsky's passport was most likely also issued by the GRU.

Plotnitsky resigned as head of the «LNR» in late 2017 and fled to Moscow as the power struggle intensified in the separatist republic.

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