Russian assassin is jailed for life for killing a Chechen rebel commander on Moscow’s orders in Berlin park incident that sparked diplomatic row
- A German court today found Vadim Krasikov, 56, guilty of murdering Zelimkhan Khangoshvil, 40, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park in 2019
- Berlin court said Khangoshvil’s murder was ordered by Russian state security
- The murder prompted the German government to expel two Russian diplomats – and Moscow responded by doing the same
A Russian assassin has been jailed for life for murdering a former Chechen rebel commander on the orders of Moscow in a central Berlin park.
Vadim Krasikov, 56, who went under the alias Vadim Sokolov, was found guilty of killing 40-year-old Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23 2019.
Berlin’s regional court said Krasikov carried out the killing on the orders of the Russian state, having entered the country on a fake French-issued passport, and sentenced him to life in prison.
The court ruled that Russian security services provided Krasikov with a false identity, fake passport and the resources to carry out the 2019 hit. The Kremlin has called the allegations of Russian involvement in the Berlin killing ‘absolutely groundless.’
The 2019 murder sparked outrage in Germany and inflamed diplomatic tensions between Berlin and Moscow.
Khangoshvili, who had been seeking asylum in Germany, led troops fighting against Russia in the Second Chechen War, and was considered a terrorist by Moscow.
Vadim Krasikov, 55 (left), was jailed for life by a German court for shooting dead Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, 40 (right), in a Berlin park in 2019
Berlin’s regional court said Krasikov carried out the killing on the orders of the Russian state, having entered the country on a fake French-issued passport, and sentenced him to life in prison. Pictured: Inside the court room in Berlin on Wednesday
Defense lawyers had asked the court to acquit their client, who claimed a case of mistaken identity.
But judges said Krasikov bore ‘particularly grave responsibility’ for the slaying, meaning he will not be entitled to the automatic parole after 15 years that is customary in Germany.
The victim’s relatives, who under German law were allowed to take part in the trial as co-plaintiffs, accused Russia last week of trying to ‘send a message’ to its political enemies by killing Khangoshvili, who had claimed asylum in Germany three years earlier.
Krasikov traveled to Berlin under the alias Vadim Sokolov in August 2019 at the behest of the Russian government for a ‘state-contracted killing,’ prosecutors said.
Krasikov shot Khangoshvili from behind with a silencer-fitted handgun in broad daylight in the Berlin park.
With Khangoshvili lying on the ground, Krasikov allegedly fired two more bullets into his head, killing him.
Khangoshvili – who was identified by German authorities using a pseudonym, Tornike Kavtarashvili – had been on his way to Friday prayers when he was killed.
Witnesses saw the suspect throw a bike, a gun and a wig in the Spree River near the scene and alerted police, who quickly arrested him before he could make off on an electric scooter parked in a doorway.
The murder prompted the German government to expel two Russian diplomats – and Moscow responded by doing the same.
The judge said: ‘In June 2019 at the latest, state organs of the central government of the Russian Federation took the decision to liquidate Tornike Khangoshvili in Berlin,’ the judge said.
‘Four children lost their father, two siblings their brother.’
Khangoshvili (right, with former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, left) led troops against Russian in the Second Chechen War, and was considered a terrorist by Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has called the allegations of Russian involvement in the Berlin killing ‘absolutely groundless.’
But months after the killing, Putin said after a meeting with then Chancellor Angela Merkel that the victim had been a ‘bandit’ and a ‘murderer,’ accusing him of killing scores of people during fighting in the Caucasus.
Krasikov’s true identity was revealed by investigative website Bellingcat, which said he grew up in Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union before moving to the Russian region of Siberia.
He received training from Russian intelligence service FSB and was part of its elite squad, the website said.
Days before the August 2019 killing, he had posed as a tourist, visiting sights in Paris including the Eiffel Tower before travelling to Warsaw, according to a report in Der Spiegel weekly.
He also toured the Polish capital before vanishing on August 22, without checking out from his hotel, the report said.
After being arrested in Germany, police found his mobile phone and a return flight ticket for Moscow on August 25 in his hotel room in Warsaw, Spiegel reported.
Krasikov shot Khangoshvili from behind with a silencer-fitted handgun in broad daylight in the Berlin park (scene, pictured)
Putin had described the victim as a ‘fighter, very cruel and bloody’ who had fought with separatists against Russian forces in the Caucasus and also been involved in bombing attacks on the Moscow metro.
Moscow also said it had been seeking his extradition.
The outcome of the trial could stoke fresh tensions between Germany and Russia at a time when the new government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz is trying to find its foreign policy footing with Moscow.
German-Russian relations took a further hit last year after Merkel intervened to fly poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to Berlin for medical treatment. Navalny says he was poisoned by Russian agents, which Moscow denies.
After returning to his home country, Navalny was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany.
In 2018, a year before Khangoshvili’s murder, Russian agents poisoned former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with Novichok in Britain.
The Skripals were left fighting for their lives after members of a Russian military intelligence hit squad smeared the deadly weapon on Mr Skripal’s front door in Salisbury.
The attack seriously injured police officer Nick Bailey and Salisbury resident Charlie Rowley, whose partner, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, later died.
Russia has for years drawn the ire of Western powers, from annexing Ukraine’s Crimea to meddling in elections and backing President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
German’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has called for a tougher stance toward Russia, especially over its military buildup near Ukraine.
But Scholz has called for a new ‘Ostpolitik’ – or policy toward the east – of the kind that his Social Democratic predecessor as chancellor, Willy Brandt, pursued during the Cold War.
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