The alleged perpetrator of the murder of a Chechen opponent in the heart of Berlin, suspected of having acted on orders from Moscow, appears before a court in the capital on Wednesday in a trial likely to fuel German-Russian tensions.
The suspect Vadim K., also known as Vadim S., is accused of having shot dead in the summer of 2019 a Georgian from the Chechen minority in the country, aged 40, identified as Tornike Kavtarashvili.
The 55-year-old Russian, who so far has remained silent on the facts, will be tried by a court specializing in state security cases in the Berlin tribunal.
The trial comes amid continuing tensions between Berlin and Moscow, recently exacerbated by the alleged poisoning of Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny, who was taken in by Germany for treatment.
Tests carried out in the country, corroborated by France and Sweden, proved that the 44-year-old opponent was poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent developed during the days of the Soviet Union.
This latest crisis has been added to a series of diplomatic tensions between Berlin and Moscow, from the cyberattack on the Bundestag in 2015 attributed to Russia to numerous geopolitical differences, such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia. , the situation in Syria or the Libyan conflict.
The events took place on August 23, 2019, in broad daylight, in the Tiergarten park, in the heart of Berlin.
Traveling by bike, the Russian approached his victim and fired a first time from a distance with a silencer, before finishing him off with two bullets at point blank range in the head, according to the charge of the federal prosecutor’s office , in charge of terrorism cases.
Witnesses spoke of an “execution”.
Arrested near the scene the same day, the suspect has been imprisoned since.
The prosecution is convinced: Moscow ordered the murder. “Bodies linked to the central government of the Russian Federation” instructed the accused “to liquidate the Georgian of Chechen origin Tornike K.”, he said.
The alleged hired killer would have fulfilled this “state mission, either to be paid or because he shared the motivations of his clients to kill a political opponent (…) and as retaliation for his involvement” in a conflict against Russia.
A former Chechen separatist leader, the victim had fought against Russian forces between 2000 and 2004 and since 2016 had lived with his family in Germany where he had applied for asylum.
The Kremlin has always denied any involvement.
If suspicion is confirmed, it would be “a spectacular case of state terrorism” on German soil, said Der Spiegel.
According to the magazine and investigative journalism platform Bellingcat, the alleged murderer, whose real identity is Vadim Krasikov, was trained by the Russian secret service FSB. Before the murder, he traveled as a tourist to Paris and Warsaw.
The case is reminiscent of the poisoning, also attributed to Moscow by ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK in 2018, which caused an uproar in the Western world.
At the end of 2019, Germany expelled two Russian diplomats to protest their lack of cooperation in the investigation, to which Moscow responded by in turn expelling two German diplomats.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had threatened additional sanctions against Russia “depending on the progress of the investigation,” but things remained there.
If the trial, which is to last until the end of January 2021, should result in a life sentence for the accused, identified by many witnesses, it will be more complicated to establish the involvement of the Russian secret services, underline German media.
Unless the accused decides to speak and confirm the prosecution’s thesis.