AFP
Wire Service
3 minute read
15 Dec 2021
11:01 pm

Berlin court says Russia ordered contract killing on German soil

AFP

Moscow slammed what it called a 'political' ruling against a backdrop of 'general anti-Russian sentiment'.

Lawyers of the defence (L-R) Christian Koch, Ingmar Pauli and Robert Unger sit at the Higher Regional Court in Berlin, where a verdict was spoken on December 15, 2021 in a trial against a Russian defendant accused of killing a Georgian man in a Berlin park. (Photo by Christophe Gateau / POOL / AFP)

The 2019 assassination of a former Chechen commander in a Berlin park was ordered by Russia, a German court said Wednesday, a ruling that drew immediate anger from Moscow and risked escalating diplomatic tensions.

Judges in a Berlin court sentenced Russian suspect Vadim Krasikov, alias Vadim Sokolov, to life in jail after finding him guilty of gunning down Georgian national Tornike Kavtarashvili, 40, in the Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23, 2019.

“Russian state authorities ordered the accused to liquidate the victim,” presiding judge Olaf Arnoldi said, agreeing with prosecutors that the murder had been carefully planned.

The murder was meant “as retaliation” for being a Kremlin opponent, the judge added.

Moscow slammed what it called a “political” ruling against a backdrop of “general anti-Russian sentiment”.

“We consider this verdict to be a biased, politically-motivated decision that seriously aggravates already difficult Russian-German relations,” Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergei Nechayev, said in a statement.

The ruling piles pressure on Germany’s new government, which has vowed a tougher stance towards Russia, and comes amid growing alarm in the West about Russian troop movements on the border with Ukraine.

New Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock faces “her first major test”, Der Spiegel weekly wrote.

– Tit-for-tat –

Shortly after the murder took place, Germany under then-chancellor Angela Merkel expelled two Russian diplomats in protest at Moscow’s perceived lack of cooperation with the investigation. 

Russia, denying any connection to the killing, responded with a tit-for-tat move.

According to German prosecutors, the suspect shot Kavtarashvili from behind on a bicycle, firing two shots from a Glock 26 pistol equipped with a silencer.

After the victim fell to the ground, Krasikov is accused of then shooting him in the head, killing him on the spot, before getting back on his bicycle and fleeing.

Police divers later recovered the handgun, a wig and a bicycle from the nearby Spree river.

Calling for Krasikov to be jailed for life as they summed up their case last week, prosecutors said they had identified him as a “commander of a special unit of Russian secret services FSB”.

“He liquidated a political opponent,” prosecutor Lars Malkies told the court.

But in an earlier hearing, the defendant had told the court through his lawyer Robert Unger that he should be identified only as Vadim Sokolov, who is “Russian, single and a construction engineer”.

He denied being known as Krasikov, saying “I know of no one by this name”.

Prosecutors say the defendant travelled as a tourist in the days before the murder, arriving on August 17 in Paris where he visited sights before travelling to Warsaw.

Photos of his tourist cover were found on a mobile phone in the Polish hotel where he stayed before heading to Berlin on August 22.

– Ukraine tensions –

The trial has spanned a period of particularly rocky ties between Berlin and Moscow over a series of espionage cases, as well as the poisoning and jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Russia denies all allegations.

The verdict also comes as Russia stands accused by the West of planning an invasion of Ukraine and massing tens of thousands of troops near its neighbour’s border.

Germany’s new government has taken a sharp tone with Moscow, warning that it will not approve the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia in the event of any new “escalation” in Ukraine.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz issued a fresh warning on Wednesday, saying Russia would pay “a high price” if it invaded its neighbour.

– ‘Very cruel’ –

Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the Tiergarten victim as a “fighter, very cruel and bloody” who had joined separatists against Russian forces in the Caucasus and also been involved in bombing attacks on the Moscow metro.

Moscow also said it had been seeking his extradition.

According to German media, the victim survived two assassination attempts in Georgia before seeking asylum in Germany, where he had been living for several years.