Germany kicks out Russian diplomats over Berlin murder

A general view shows the Russian embassy after Germany expelled two Russian diplomats in Berlin, Germany, December 4, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2019

Germany kicks out Russian diplomats over Berlin murder

  • After Germany’s move, a Russian foreign ministry representative pledged “retaliatory measures.”
  • German media said the suspicion was that Russian intelligence agencies had recruited him after the 2013 killing

BERLIN: Germany expelled two Russian diplomats on Wednesday after prosecutors said Moscow could be behind the killing of a former Chechen rebel commander in a Berlin park.
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian national, was shot twice in the head at close range in Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23, allegedly by a Russian man who was arrested shortly afterwards.
The case has been compared with the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain last year with a Soviet-era nerve agent, widely blamed on Russian intelligence.
The attempted murder plunged relations between Britain and Russia into a deep freeze, leading to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.
After Germany’s move on Wednesday, a Russian foreign ministry representative pledged “retaliatory measures.”
“A politicized approach to investigation issues is unacceptable,” said the representative, adding that Germany’s statements were “groundless and hostile.”
The suspect in the Berlin killing was said to be riding a bicycle and was seen by witnesses afterwards throwing the bike and a stone-laden bag with a gun into a river.
He has until now been named by police only as Vadim S but evidence revealed by German prosecutors on Wednesday indicated a possible fake identity.
“The foreign ministry has today declared two employees of the Russian embassy in Berlin as personae non gratae with immediate effect,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Despite repeated high-ranking and persistent demands, Russian authorities have not cooperated sufficiently in the investigation into the murder.”
Federal prosecutors in charge of intelligence cases earlier on Wednesday said they had taken over the investigation.
“There is sufficient factual evidence to suggest that the killing... was carried out either on behalf of state agencies of the Russian Federation or those of the Autonomous Chechen Republic,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Chechnya has been led with an iron fist since 2007 by Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Outlining the results of their investigation so far, the statement said Vadim had traveled from Moscow to Paris on August 17 and then on to Warsaw on August 20.
He left his hotel in Warsaw on August 22 and his movements between then and the murder were unclear, it said.
Prosecutors said his visa for traveling to Europe indicated he was a civil engineer working for a company in Saint Petersburg.
But the company was not operational and a fax number for the firm was registered to another company belonging to Russia’s defense ministry.
Prosecutors said the man’s features matched those of a suspect in a 2013 murder in Moscow in which the suspect also approached the victim on a bicycle.
The investigative website Bellingcat on Tuesday said the suspect in both murders was 54-year-old Vadim Krasikov, who grew up in Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union before spending time in Siberia.
German media said the suspicion was that Russian intelligence agencies had recruited him after the 2013 killing.
Bellingcat said the victim had fought in the second Chechen war in 1999-2002, then continued supporting Chechen separatists from his native Georgia.
He also lived for a time under an assumed identity as Tornike Kavtarashvili, according to media reports.
Bellingcat said he “recruited and armed” a volunteer unit to fight Russian troops in Georgia in 2008.
After surviving two assassination attempts in Georgia, he had spent recent years in Germany and applied for asylum.


Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

Updated 01 April 2020

Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

  • Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown
  • Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science

WASHINGTON: The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen Wednesday despite unprecedented lockdowns, as the head of the United Nations sounded the alarm on what he said was humanity’s worst crisis since World War II.
The warning came as Donald Trump told Americans to brace for a “very painful” few weeks after the United States registered its deadliest 24 hours of the crisis.
Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown as governments struggle to halt the spread of a disease that has now infected more than 850,000 people.
Well over 40,000 are known to have died, half of them in Italy and Spain, but the death toll continues to rise with new records being logged daily in the US.
“This is going to be a very painful — a very, very painful — two weeks,” Trump said, describing the pandemic as “a plague.”
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.”
America’s outbreak has mushroomed rapidly. There are now around 190,000 known cases — a figure that has doubled in just five days.
On Tuesday, a record 865 people died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, taking the national toll so far to more than 4,000.
Members of Trump’s coronavirus task force said the country should be ready for between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the coming months.
“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
America’s under-pressure health system is being supplemented by field hospitals sprouting up all over New York, including a tented camp in Central Park, a hospital ship and converted convention centers.
But even with the extended capacity, doctors say they are still having to make painful choices.
“If you get a surge of patients coming in, and you only have a limited number of ventilators, you can’t necessarily ventilate patients,” Shamit Patel of the Beth Israel hospital said. “And then you have to start picking and choosing.”
The extraordinary economic and political upheaval spurred by the virus presents a real danger to the relative peace the world has seen over the last few decades, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday.
The “disease ... represents a threat to everybody in the world and... an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past.”
“The combination of the two facts and the risk that it contributes to enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict are things that make us believe that this is the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War,” he said.
In virtual talks Tuesday, finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 major economies pledged to address the debt burden of low-income countries and deliver aid to emerging markets.
Last week G20 leaders said they were injecting $5 trillion into the global economy to head off a feared deep recession.
In the European Union, however, battle lines have been drawn over the terms of a rescue plan.
Worst-hit Italy and Spain are leading a push for a shared debt instrument — dubbed “coronabonds.”
But talk of shared debt is a red line for Germany and other northern countries, threatening to divide the bloc.
Deaths shot up again across Europe. While there are hopeful signs that the spread of infections is slowing in hardest-hit Italy and Spain, which both reported more than 800 new deaths Tuesday.
France recorded a one-day record of 499 dead while Britain reported 381 coronavirus deaths, including that of a previously healthy 13-year-old.
That came after a 12-year-old Belgian girl succumbed to an illness that is serious chiefly for older, frailer people with pre-existing health conditions.
Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science.
Researchers said China’s decision to shutter Wuhan, ground zero for the global COVID-19 pandemic, may have prevented three-quarters of a million new cases by delaying the spread of the virus.
“Our analysis suggests that without the Wuhan travel ban and the national emergency response there would have been more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of Wuhan” by mid-February, said Oxford University’s Christopher Dye.