The New York Times on Thursday, Sep 26, reported that German law enforcement had received an anonymous email that allegedly exposed Zelimkhan Khangoshvili's killer who shot the man dead in Berlin Aug 23. As we remember, in the immediate aftermath of that murder, a Russian national was detained, who went by the name of Vadim Sokolov. According to NYT, Sokolov's actual name is Vladimir Stepanov, an ex-police operative who had allegedly been doing time in Russian prison until recently.
Ex-police Major Vladimir Alekseevich Stepanov had been held at Correctional Colony 11 in the city of Bor, Nizhny Novgorod region, after being sentenced in 2005 to 24 years for the murder of Almaz-Antey defense company acting CEO Igor Klimov and head of Prommashinstrument Elena Nescheret, according to the report.
At the same time, it is possible that, tasked with committing another murder, this time in Berlin, he could have been released much earlier.
It is noteworthy that a large number of tattoos on Sokolov's body confirm the version of Berlin hitman's criminal past.
So, is the identity of the GRU-hired assassin is revealed? It’s not quite so, and it's not so simple in this case.
While elaborating on this murder in my piece "Shots in Berlin: GRU’s authority once again damaged: but who's the shooter?” and in my stream " GRU's failure in Berlin and the leak on Italian minions," I drew attention to the fact that the operation in Berlin could not have been conducted without the knowledge of the FSB. Besides, I claimed that the hitman had been apprehended with the FSB's assistance to German law enforcement. And the fact that Sokolov-Stepanov turned out to be a prisoner released early only confirms my hunch that the GRU might actually not be involved in the removal of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili at all, while the hit was an FSB job.
And, to be honest, my words both then and now are being confirmed through such an information trigger as an "investigative" resource The Insider, which was the primary source of "insides" in the Berlin murder case. By the way, it was through this outlet that the narrative that Sokolov was a GRU guy was first spun.
And here's where the fun begins.
The fact is that The Insider, as I have already written on numerous occasions, in all of its investigations puts all blame exclusively on the GRU and no one else. And even in the case of the disclosure of data about Stepanov, literally immediately, on the same day, Thursday, August 26, editor-in-chief of The Insider, Roman Dobrokhotov, defied the NYT version via Twitter, saying that his outlet would soon publish the report on its own investigation into this murder.
And you know, I won't be surprised if this "investigation" shows that Sokolov, tattooed from head to toe, will be portrayed as a GRU officer.
Indeed, The Insider, as I said, by a strange coincidence, doesn't have other security agencies on the blame list, such as the FSB or the SVR. Either The Insider is unaware of their existence, or Dobrokhotov’s connection with the Humpty Dumpty hacker group, which has penetrated Vladislav Surkov's comms and leaked GRU's undercover assets overseas, is telling.
Moreover, this leak was carried out, including through the publication of these materials on The Insider website. And if someone forgot, I'll remind you that the hacker group was led by FSB operatives.
But are we observing now? As for me, it's GRU rallying to be a step ahead of Dobrokhotov’s investigation.
Knowing about the next batch of spins about to come from The Insider, the GRU through NYT (with which they have a good relationship: remember at least the fake story with the "supply of Ukrainian missiles to the DPRK") organized a leak regarding Stepanov. For people who are at least somehow familiar with the spheres of influence of Russian power structures, the leak clearly shows that it's the FSB who stands behind the Berlin hit – from the moment Stepanov was released from prison to his arrest by German police, with the right accents put in media claiming the hitman is a GRU mercenary. Meanwhile, Dobrokhotov’s reaction is nothing but FSB convulsions to such an unexpected blow by the GRU, which usually is much slower in its response measures.
Now the story starts is tightening like a spring. Let's just see who will be the first to let that spring loose – the GRU or the FSB.