Remember these guys? Earlier this month they were identified by British authorities as the two Russian GRU agents responsible for poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent called Novichok. Their travel documents indicated their names were Ruslan Boshirov (on the left above) and Alexander Petrov (on the right).

A week after they became news, Vladmir Putin himself announced that, contrary to the claims made by Britain, the two men were just regular people with no connection to the government. He also promised they would tell their story themselves soon. Later the same day they appeared on the Kremlin-funded RT network where they claimed they were just tourists who’d gone to Salisbury as tourists to see a famous clock. “They have a famous cathedral there, Salisbury Cathedral…It’s famous for its clock. It’s one of the oldest working clocks in the world,” the man identified as Boshirov claimed.

Today, two online investigative sites who worked together to produce a report claimed they had identified Boshirov as an alias for decorated GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga:

Based on the array of information sources consulted – all of which were independent from each other and came from different time periods – Bellingcat was able to conclude with certainty that the person identified by UK authorities as “Ruslan Boshirov,” is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga, a highly decorated senior officer from Russian military intelligence who was awarded the highest state honor in late 2014.

This finding starkly contradicts both this man’s statements, as made in a TV interview to Russia’s state-run RT network, and President Vladimir Putin’s assertions that the person in question is merely a civilian named Ruslan Boshirov. These demonstrated falsehoods overshadow this man’s – and the Russian government’s – other denials in this respect, and corroborate the UK authorities’ allegations that this individual was a) complicit in the Skripal poisoning and b) acted on orders from a high-level government authority in Russia.

Bellingcat has contacted confidentially a former Russian military officer of similar rank as Colonel Chepiga, in order to receive a reaction to what we found…

In our source’s words, an operation of this sort would have typically required a lower-ranked, “field operative” with a military rank of “no higher than captain.” The source further surmised that to send a highly decorated colonel back to a field job would be highly extraordinary, and would imply that “the job was ordered at the highest level.”

If this is accurate, then Colonel Chepiga received Russia’s highest award from Vladimir Putin himself. The article says there is no clear information on what he received it for, which is unusual and probably indicates it was a secret mission, possibly in Ukraine.

Is the report true? Reuters reports that British Minister of Defence Gavin Williamson confirmed that finding in a tweet:

“The true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian Colonel. I want to thank all the people who are working so tirelessly on this case,” Williamson said in a tweet.

Here’s Williamson’s Twitter account, but I don’t see the tweet. Has he deleted it? And if so, did he do that because he doubts the finding or because he wasn’t supposed to confirm it. It’s not clear.

In any case, I’m guessing we won’t be seeing “Ruslan Boshirov” on TV again anytime soon. He’s going to be way too busy running his vague fitness business for the next year or two. Here he is again in I’m-just-a-tourist mode: