British counterterror police have identified the suspected mastermind of the 2018 nerve-agent attack against former double agent Sergei Skripal as a Russian military intelligence commander.
In a statement Tuesday, British prosecutors confirmed they had authorized a string of charges against Denis Sergeev for the March 2018 nerve-agent attack that left Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, seriously ill. A police officer was also injured and a member of the public, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, died after being exposed to the military-grade poison.
The prosecutors recommended that Sergeev should be charged with conspiracy to murder Skripal as well as the attempted murders of the former double agent, his daughter, and injured police officer Nick Bailey. Sergeev could also be charged with use of a chemical weapon. He cannot be formally charged by British prosecutors unless he’s arrested.
Two men, known as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were previously named as the attackers in September 2018. They infamously offered an absurd alibi for their activity in Salisbury, claiming that they had traveled all the way to the mid-size British city as tourists to gaze at the local cathedral. British police allege they smeared Novichok nerve agent on Skripal’s door handle.
According to BBC News, Surgeev is believed by British security officials to have served as on-the-ground commander for the operation. British police said Tuesday that all three were members of Russian intelligence.
Sergeev was previously identified in a Bellingcat investigation as a “high-ranking GRU officer,” and the site reported that Russian authorities took the unusual step of attempting to scrub public records of his existence following the Salisbury attacks. Bellingcat also linked Sergeev to over a decade of covert GRU operations ahead of the Skripal poisoning.
Police said their inquiries showed that Sergeev entered the U.K. on the same day as Petrov and Boshirov, but on a separate flight. The three met on “more than one occasion” in central London over the subsequent two days, then Sergeev left three days after his initial arrival on March 4—the day that Skripal’s home was attacked with the nerve agent.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, who has been leading the probe into the attack, said: “This marks another significant development in our investigation. Ever since these terrible incidents occurred, we were clear that we would be relentless in our investigation and our pursuit of justice for the victims of the attacks and their families.”
Arrest warrants are now in place for all three men.