Two Poison Apples in the Picnic Basket

In one of our first posts, we discussed the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili which happened a little over a year ago in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten. Our second post delved into further information on the identity of Vadim Krasikov and who within the Russian government assisted with this assassination. We explained how the murder was directly supported by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) security agency, both for training the assassin and for issuance of false identity papers. We also noted that it was supervised directly by Eduard Bendersky, chairman of the Vympel Charitable Fund For Former FSB Spetsnaz Officers. These posts would not have been possible without the great work by Bellingcat and its partner’s reports on this event.

Bellingcat reported two weeks before the assassination, another person traveled by car from Russia to Poland – and possibly on to Germany on a fake passport issued on the same date, and having the same number range as that used by “Vadim Sokolov”. This second person – who is listed in German indictment documents as a person of interest and possibly an accomplice to the murder – traveled under the name “Roman Davydov”, having a birth date of 9 October 1981. Both “Davydov” and the suspected assassin had listed the same employer in their visa applications – the St. Petersburg company ZAO RUST.

Bellingcat was able to positively identify the second person of interest in the Kleiner Tiergarten murder case previously known under the aliases “Roman Davydov” and “Roman Nikolaev”. This person is in fact Roman Yuryevich Demyanchenko, a former FSB Spetsnaz officer and current undercover FSB asset working under the cover of the Vympel Group of companies. In addition, Bellingcat’s report predicts that the Vympel Group of companies – and an affiliated “Regional Association of Vympel Spetsnaz Veterans” – are used as a front organization for Russia’s security services in order to pursue a program of targeted assassinations of perceived Russian enemies abroad.

Roman Demyanchenko

Demyanchenko was born in Moscow on 4 December 1980 who was a decorated FSB officer who, until 2011, served in the FSB’s Department V (Vympel). Bellingcat explains how a former officers of Russia’s special service, an early retirement would not necessarily entitle a termination of the relationship with FSB; it can in fact be used as a legend for providing a valuable asset cover through the alibi of “civil employment”. In our previous post, we introduced Eduard Bendersky who is a former FSB Spetsnaz officer and current owner of several private security companies employing ex-Spetsnaz soldiers. The security companies Bendersky owns and operates carry the name “Vympel,” with his flagship enterprise being “Vympel-A” — a private security services provider to many state-owned companies which has received government and parliamentary recognition.

Bellingcat was able to retrieve phone records that shows Demyanchenko frequently visiting the headquarters of the Vympel group of companies and communicates with its management – including with its president Eduard Bendersky, as well as with active FSB officers. He also frequently communicates with a person who actively communicated with both the suspected assassin Vadim Krasikov and with his wife in the months after the assassination.

Demyanchenko traveled by train from Moscow to St. Petersburg on 23 July 2019, and had a return ticket for 26 July 2019, however he did not use that return ticket and booked another return trip on 29 July. Bellingcat suggests Demyanchenko needed more time than planned to compile the necessary package of (inauthentic) documents, and stayed longer than planned in St. Petersburg. What ties the FSB into this is that Demyanchenko traveled under three identities with three different names under government issued valid passport. This means if you are using a government passport the FSB needs to approve it as they control the border service. Even GRU and SVR require FSB’s involvement for the issuance of cover documents to not be discovered when you cross the border.

When Demyanchenko traveled to Berlin, the name he was under “Roman Nikolaev” has been purged from travel logs from Russian border crossing databases as well as from a comprehensive FSB-maintained database tracking all Russian residents’ movements.

Food for thought: A basic rule of thumb in identifying Russian spies – both of GRU and FSB provenance – is that they tend to use the same first name and middle name or initial, and sometimes the same birth date, in both their real and fake identities. The latter however is more often true of GRU operatives than of FSB spies who tend to have better operational security and rarely use the exact same birth date. Even so, both sets of operatives typically use a cover identity with a birth year that is either the same or at most one year different then their real one.

Importance of Finding

Bellingcat concludes that these latest findings corroborate our previous conclusion that the assassination of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin was organized by the FSB which used the Vympel group of companies (and the affiliated Regional Association of Former FSB Spetsnaz veterans) for the practical implementation and as deniable cover. It is logical to conclude that the Vympel group of companies is a de facto arm of the FSB earmarked, at least partly, for deniable overseas assassinations or other unlawful interventions.

In addition they send a subtle warning to European countries that there is a gaping security hole in the European visa issuance system permitting the award of visas to false identities with no credible documentary background, and with relatively easily identifiable doppelgangers working for Russian security services (or for their proxy organizations). Our findings show that the deficiency is systemic and is not restricted to one particular country’s consular service, as we have observed successful abuses of the visa issuance systems deployed against the UK, France, Italy, Slovakia, Czechia and Switzerland. The abuse is made possible partly due to the continued acceptance of non-biometric passports for Russian travelers.

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