Read the Insider Russian report on this same topic here.
An ongoing Bellingcat study that is carried out jointly The Insider Russia has confirmed via unsecured passport data that the two Russian nationals identified by the United Kingdom authorities as main suspects in the Novichok poisonings on British soil are linked to Russian security services. This finding directly contradicts the Russian President's allegations of 12 September 2018, and the two men in an interview that RT broadcasts a day later that they are citizens who have traveled to Salisbury for a tourist trip.
Original Russian documents that were reviewed by Bellingcat and The Insider definitively confirm that the two men were registered in the central Russian resident database under the names Alexander Yevgenievich Petrov and Ruslan Timurovich Boshirov, respectively, and in 2009 received internal passports under these names. there are records for these two personas before 2009. This suggests that the two names probably cover identities for employees of one of the Russian security services. It is crucial that at least one passport file of a man contains several "top secret" markings, which according to at least two sources consulted by Bellingcat are usually reserved for members of secret services or top state employees.
These findings, together with the peculiarities in the two male bookings of their flight to London, make the official statements of Russia that Petrov and Boshirov civil tourists are unacceptable, and confirm the British authorities' claim that they are in fact officials of a Russian security service.
Last-minute travel plans
The Aeroflot Passenger Manifesto, reviewed by Bellingcat and The Insider, discredits Petrov and Boshirov's allegations made in the RT interview that they had long planned their visit to Salisbury. The manifest records the times of booking, check-in and boarding of each passenger. In the case of the two suspects, they made their initial booking – and checked them online – at 20:00 GMT (22:00 Moscow) on 1 March 2018, the night before their short trip to London and Salisbury.
(Click on the manifest below to view it in full resolution)
The two suspects flew back to Moscow on 4 March 2018, after they both made two trips to Salisbury on 3 Marchrd and 4 Marchth, the day the Skripals were poisoned.
An extraordinary passport file
Bellingcat and The Insider have checked the original data from the central Russian passport and residential registration database and have identified the passport files of the two suspects.
The person who uses the name Alexander Petrov has indeed a passport file, under the name Alexander Yevgenievich Petrov, born on 13 July 1979 in Kotlas, a small town in the north of Russia. The date of birth coincides with that of the Alexander Petrov who flew on Aeroflot flight SU2588 on 2 March 2018, as can be seen in the passenger manifesto that Bellingcat has assessed.
The photograph of the domestic passport corresponds to the photos that have been released by the British authorities and the face of the person who calls himself Alexander Petrov in the RT interview.
Petrov's passport file contains details that do not appear in any other passport file reviewed by Bellingcat and The Insider in this and previous investigations.
Born in 2009?
Firstly, this person's file lacks a history of address registrations or previous identification documents issued before 2009. A standard passport file – like the files of the other 3 Russian citizens named Alexander Petrov and born on July 13, 1979, all of which were reviewed by Bellingcat and the Insider before the stakeholder was identified – contain a history of previous, expired ID documents (called national passports), international passports issued to the person (both expired and current), as well as previous address registrations. The first – and only – Russian identity document for Petrov mentioned in his file is an internal passport (mandatory for Russian citizens over the age of 14), issued on November 26, 2009 and valid until today. The passport file contains a field with the name "Reason for issuing the document", which usually mentions the previous (expired) ID document that replaces the current one. In the case of Mr. Petrov simply states the reason for issuing the new passport as "Not suitable for use", a marker that is typically used when a previous passport is damaged or found to contain invalid data. A handwritten note in the Petrov file refers to an already existing national passport that was issued in 1999 in St. Petersburg. However, there is no registration of such a passport number in the central passport database.
"Do not provide information"
The passport of Alexander Petrov is marked with a stamp with the instruction "Do not provide information". This stamp does not exist in standard civilian passport files. A source in the Russian police who regularly works with the central database confirmed to Bellingcat and The Insider that they have never seen such a stamp on a passport in their careers. That source suspected that this mark was reserved for workers of the state who were in deep cover.
Adding extra credibility to the hypothesis that the persona of Alexander Petrov is a cover identity comes from another page in his passport file, which is reserved for the input of biographical data. In the case of Mr. Petrov is left blank, and in addition to the same "No Information" stamp, a handwritten note is added with the text "There is a letter SS." For the same source that was interviewed for this story, SS is a lot abbreviation used for "sovershenno sekretno", Russian for" top secret ".
Another indication pointing to the non-civil status of Petrov is the absence in his passport file of information about his international passport, with which he traveled to the United Kingdom. The passport number is stated in the passenger import number of Aeroflot which has been assessed by Bellingcat. However, the passport file does not show an international passport of Alexander Petrov, unlike the regular practice – under which the file contains a list of all government-issued identity documents, both national and international passports, expired and currently valid.
(Click on the passport data below to view it in full resolution)
The Russian media department Fontanka has previously published information about the passports of Boshirov and Petrov, indicating that they were separated by only 3 figures (-1294 and -1297), which means that they were issued almost simultaneously. Bellingcat and The Insider also reviewed passport data for the other two persons to whom these two passports were issued, with the passport numbers ending in -1295 and -1296. These two people also had special passport files, with incomplete or time-dependent data, similar to the passport file of Alexander Petrov. In addition, Fontanka noted that Petrov and Boshirov bought two separate return flights to Moscow on 4 March. Additional information about these findings, along with other discoveries related to Boshirov and Petrov, will be published on the Bellingcat site next week.