Russian hitman suspected on trial for Berlin murder

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Berlin (AFP)

A Russian is on trial Wednesday accused of murdering a former Chechen commander in a Berlin park on orders from Moscow, a case that has cast a veil on relations between Russia and Germany.

Vadim K., also known as Vadim S., is accused of killing a Georgian national identified by German authorities as Tornike K., 40, in Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23 last year.

German prosecutors, who are not disclosing the full names of the suspects before criminal trials, said the contract murder was carried out at Russia’s request, prompting Berlin to expel two Russian diplomats.

Moscow has denied the allegations, taking tit-for-tat action against Berlin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in May that the murder “disrupts a trusted cooperation” between Berlin and Moscow and some analysts have suggested the murder has led to a change in her approach to Russia.

The German leader has always stressed the importance of maintaining an open dialogue with her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, but she has sharpened her tone in recent months.

The lawsuit comes at a time of European anger against Russia over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is being treated in the German capital.

Germany said tests it carried out found the 44-year-old man was poisoned with the deadly Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

France and Sweden corroborated this conclusion, which activists say blames the attempted murder on Moscow.

Merkel’s government has not ruled out pushing for European Union sanctions on the attack.

– Lien FSB? –

With tensions running high, Wednesday’s trial will likely be scrutinized for more details on Moscow’s involvement.

The Bellingcat investigation website named suspect Vadim Krasikov, 54, who grew up in Kazakhstan as part of the Soviet Union before settling in the Russian region of Siberia.

He received training from the Russian intelligence service FSB and was part of its elite team, the website said.

Days before the murder, he had passed himself off as a tourist, visiting sights in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, before heading to Warsaw, according to another weekly report from Der Spiegel.

He also visited the Polish capital before disappearing on August 22, without leaving his hotel, according to the report.

A day later, on a bicycle in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park, the suspect approached the victim from behind, firing a Glock 26 pistol fitted with a silencer at the side of Tornike K’s torso, the suspects said. German prosecutors.

After the victim fell to the ground, the accused fired two more shots in his head which killed the Georgian on the spot.

He was seen throwing a bag into the nearby River Spree where police divers later recovered the Glock handgun, a wig and a bicycle.

The suspect was arrested after the murder, which took place minutes from the German Chancellery and Parliament.

Investigators later found her cell phone and a flight ticket back to Moscow on August 25 in her hotel room in Warsaw, Spiegel reported.

– ‘Very cruel’ –

Russian President Vladimir Putin had described the victim as a “very cruel and bloody fighter” who had fought with the separatists against Russian forces in the Caucasus and had also been involved in bombings against the Moscow metro.

Moscow also said he had requested his extradition.

Named Zelimkhan Khangoshvili by the German media, the victim had survived two assassination attempts in Georgia.

Subsequently he applied for asylum in Germany and spent the last years in the country.

Navalny’s murder and poisoning has been compared to the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018, also widely blamed on Russian intelligence.

Russia has for years drawn the wrath of Western powers, from Ukraine’s annexation of Crimea to interference in the elections and support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.

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