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V is for Vympel. How the FSB Spetsnaz Center arranged Khangoshvili's murder in Berlin

The Insider, Bellingcat and Der Spiegel have found new evidence that the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin was organized by the FSB spetsnaz unit Vympel. We found out how the FSB Spetsnaz Center trained the recidivist hitman Vadim Krasikov for this murder, and also established some details of Krasikov's travels across Europe.

  • How the FSB trained Krasikov for the assassination

  • What is Vympel

  • Krasikov's European tour

  • Russo Turisto - Paris

  • The spires of Warsaw


How the FSB trained Krasikov for the assassination

In 2019, Vadim Krasikov, instead of serving time for killing businessmen in Moscow and Kostomuksha, spent time at FSB training bases. Cell phone billings obtained by Bellingcat show that during the year he was constantly in touch with Vympel officers and visited their training bases.

One of his constant contacts was Eduard Bendersky, a veteran and the head of the Vympel charity fund. Although he appears on the state TV channels as a veteran, it seems he is still on active duty. Technically, he is a private entrepreneur, the owner of several private security companies. But he is also the chairman of the Russian-Iraqi business council, and for some reason his companies were given the exclusive right to protect Russian oil facilities in Iraq. This format of «private entrepreneurship» with PMCs abroad is well known from the example of Yevgeny Prigozhin. On his website, Bendersky proudly says his main company Vympel-A was «repeatedly acknowledged by the leadership of the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, the State Duma and other government bodies. A curious (and possibly accidental) coincidence: the famous Russian hacker Maxim Yakubets, wanted by the FBI with a reward of $5 million, is Bendersky's son-in-law. According to the U.S. authorities, Yakubets worked not only for his own enrichment, but also for the FSB.

When Krasikov began his active training for the assassination in Berlin, his phone calls to Bendersky became more frequent. For example, they spoke on July 3, when Krasikov returned from Bryansk, where he had been issued a passport in the name of Sokolov, and on July 28, when he returned from St. Petersburg, where he had received documents confirming his employment at Rust CJSC (for getting a visa).

Eduard Bendersky and Vladimir Putin at a United People's Front meeting
Eduard Bendersky and Vladimir Putin at a United People's Front meeting

Eduard Bendersky's close ties with the leadership of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) have long been known. Here's an excerpt from a letter to the Novaya Gazeta journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin from members of the Alpha group (also part of the FSB Spetsnaz Center):

«Now, about one of the sponsors of the FSB Spetsnaz Center. Once upon a time a humble officer Edward Bendersky served in the Center. He retired with the rank of senior lieutenant. When he retired, he created a private security company Vympel-A under the «roof» of our center. It is supervised personally by General Tikhonov <the longtime head of the FSB Spetsnaz Center - The Insider>. Bendersky drives a Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV and has both a special driving permit and a cover ID. Almost all banquets, concerts and competitions are paid for by his private security company. Mr. Bendersky regularly visits the sauna for a steam bath, in spite of the fact that the sauna is located in a Spetsnaz Center facility with controlled access. He prefers to take a steam bath in the company of the Center's leadership. Remember the events at Dubrovka? Immediately after the successful storming, we carried out together with Vympel fighters, some of the FSB and Interior Ministry leadership talked on television about the preparations for the storming and the storming itself. Imagine our amazement when in one of the reports we saw Mr. Bendersky, a civilian who had long ago retired from the agency. He was sitting in front of the monitors and giving a detailed account of how the spetsnaz had been moving around the seized building, naming division and unit numbers. It goes without saying that the information and video recordings made by our cameramen were given to him by the Center's leadership.»

Interestingly, the letter was published after the death of Shchekochikhin. He died as a result of poisoning by an unidentified substance (criminal proceedings for murder were twice opened and closed without any result). Bendersky said in a conversation with The Insider that he did not know Krasikov and was not going to give any comments.

Colonel General Tikhonov, head of the FSB Spetsnaz Center
Colonel General Tikhonov, head of the FSB Spetsnaz Center

As can be seen from Krasikov's travels (evidenced by his phone billings), he visited the FSB Spetsnaz Center's main training bases on numerous occasions - at least 8 visits to the FSB SC base in Balashikha (military unit 35690) in 2019. The last time he trained at that location was August 8, just a few days before he left for Europe to commit murder.

FSB Spetsnaz Center training base in Balashikha
FSB Spetsnaz Center training base in Balashikha

Another FSB building he has been visiting is at Bldg. 4, 12 Prospekt Vernadskogo (also known as the Priboy Research Institute), where, according to open sources, the National Anti-Terrorist Center and the FSB analytical center are located. He visited the building on April 2 and July 2, on the eve of his trip to Bryansk to pick up his cover passport.

The Priboy Research Institute building
The Priboy Research Institute building

On April 9, 2019, at 7:45 a.m. Krasikov arrived at the training base in Balashikha, then at 10am headed further east, toward the small village of Averkievo. There he spent four days at an FSB training base – until April 14.

Video from the Averkievo training base.

Krasikov also repeatedly visits the office of the Vympel-A association headed by Bendersky and constantly makes phone calls to its staff members.

Locations visited by Krasikov, according to his phone billings. The number signifies the number of days spent at a particular location
Locations visited by Krasikov, according to his phone billings. The number signifies the number of days spent at a particular location

What is Vympel

The Vympel special unit (or Directorate B of the FSB Spetsnaz Center) was created in 1981 after the start of the war in Afghanistan and was inspired by the successful storming of Amin's palace in Kabul. Officially, Vympel was created to conduct operations outside the country during a special (threat-related) period. An order to go ahead with an operation could only be given by the USSR KGB chairman - and only in writing.

The unit had a training facility in Balashikha, in the «old town» where servicemen had trained for the Spanish Civil War.

Vympel officers' training included general physical training, hand-to-hand combat, all types of driving classes, shooting from all types of domestic and foreign-made weapons, diving, rock climbing, medical training and explosive devices, airborne and underwater training. On average, training a Vympel officer took 5 years.

In addition, special types of weapons and equipment were created at the request of Vympel. It is noteworthy that according to Spiegel's sources familiar with the details of the Khangoshvili murder investigation, Krasikov used a modified Glock 26 with a substitute barrel without a serial number, especially adapted for the installation of a special silencer.

The unit was tasked with disorganizing the enemy's rear, carrying out sabotage, illegal intelligence, creating spy networks, rescuing, capturing and bringing in persons with valuable information (both at home and abroad), eliminating individuals who pose a threat to the state, arranging coups d'etat abroad.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union Vympel was reoriented to tasks inside the country - primarily to combatting terrorists. Vympel participated in the hostage rescue operation in Budyonnovsk and other well-known anti-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus. Officially, Vympel has denied any involvement in operations abroad.

Krasikov's European tour

Krasikov left his cell phone at home when he left for Europe; he had a separate cell phone for the mission, which he activated on August 15, two days before leaving Moscow. He registered the new phone number under his new last name «Sokolov». Bellingcat managed to get billings for that phone too, and, as it turned out, someone had already falsified the data: both the call times and the cell tower numbers were changed after the fact. Fortunately, the conspirators were lazy, so we were able to understand the algorithm which had been used to change the data and to recover almost all the data relating to call times and locations.

In Russia, Krasikov almost never used that phone, he made only a single call on August 15 to a travel agency to book hotels in Warsaw and Paris. On August 17, according to his phone billings, he spent the entire day at home and at 6 pm headed for Sheremetyevo. At 7:13 pm he took an Air France flight to Paris.

Russo Turisto - Paris

No metadata from the phone is available for his first two days in Paris, but on August 19 «the tourist Sokolov» completed the entire obligatory program – visiting the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur, the House of Disabled, or the Church of Madeleine. Judging by the fact that he began visiting the key tourist attractions only on the third day, the first two days were clearly not devoted to tourism, and to what exactly is not clear yet. On August 20, Krasikov flew to Warsaw.

The spires of Warsaw

Having landed in Warsaw at 3 pm, Krasikov went directly to his hotel. From there, he headed to Park Lazienkowski, where he toured the royal palace, then returned to the old town and spent the rest of the evening at Sexy Duck Restaurant. The next day he made a few phone calls to a man who we were able to identify as a local Russian-speaking guide. In the afternoon he went to Wilanowie Palace and returned to the hotel in the evening.

On August 22 and for the next few days Krasikov's phone remained at the hotel - it was turned on (judging by occasional GPRS activity), but no calls were made. Apparently, on August 22, Krasikov had already left for Berlin. And since there is no data on his flight to Berlin, he went there either by train or by car. The next day, at 11:58 am, he killed Zelimkhan Khangoshvili with two shots to the head.

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