The suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal reportedly visited the Czech Republic in 2014, at the time when Skripal himself was in the country, allegedly helping the Czech counter-intelligence service uncover Russian spies. Radiožurnal, Czech Radio’s flagship news channel, broke the story on Wednesday, citing Czech intelligence sources.
The two men, who are believed to work for the Russian intelligence service GRU, arrived in the Czech Republic in mid-October 2014, using the same cover names as they did in Britain -Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – just days before Skripal’s scheduled visit to the country.
Czech Radio’s investigative reporter Janek Kroupa cites his source at military intelligence as saying that everything points to the fact that Skripal was being followed by Russian agents long before the attempted poisoning in Britain.
Alexander Petrov, who has been identified as Alexander Mishkin by British intelligence and the Investigative group Bellingcat, briefly booked into a hotel in Ostrava before moving to Prague on October 16, while the man believed to be colonel Anatoliy Chepiga –going under the fake name Ruslan Boshirov - visited Prague on October 11.
Sergei Skripal was due to arrive in mid-October, reportedly to help Czech military intelligence uncover Russian spies, who were increasingly active in the country. Skripal, who was recruited by the British MI6 in 1995, formerly headed the human resources department of the GRU, thanks to which he had excellent inside knowledge of the workings of Russian military intelligence, and was able to provide tips on Russian agents’ psychology, behavioural patterns and so on. Previous media reports confirm his cooperation with Czech intelligence.
According to the news site Neovlivni.cz in 2012, when Skripal paid a secret visit to Prague, the Czech Republic expelled five diplomats “for security reasons”, in 2014 it was three more. The expulsions were not made public and it is not clear to what extent Skripal may have contributed to their exposure.
Although the cooperation was described as “beneficial” security sources in the Czech Republic earlier dismissed Skripal’s meetings with Czech intelligence agents as a likely motive for the attempted poisoning.
The visits by Petrov and Boshirov to Prague in 2014 were reportedly later an object of interest to both the Czech Intelligence Service BIS and the National Centre for Combatting Organized Crime. However in view of the ongoing Skripal investigation, neither institution is willing to confirm this or provide any information to the media.
The Russian Embassy in Prague has also refused to comment on the case.