Moscow announced on December 12, the expulsion of two German diplomats, in retaliation for the decision of Germany in early December to return two Russians after the murder, according to Berlin, of a Georgian of Chechen origin in the German capital.
On the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned German Ambassador Geza Andreas von Geyr to inform him that “two employees of the German embassy had been declared persona non grata and had seven days to leave Russia”.
Russian diplomacy also expressed hope that these “symmetrical” expulsions, constituting an “inevitable” response from Russia, will not deteriorate the bilateral diplomatic ties between the two countries. The German side said it regretted Russia’s reaction, evoking through its Foreign Ministry’s voice an “unjustified” expulsion and a “bad signal”.
In a statement, Berlin announced “the right to take other measures in this case in the light of investigations” in progress.
On December 4, Berlin had summoned two members of the Russian embassy in Germany to leave the country, “with immediate effect”, accusing Moscow of not having “cooperated sufficiently” in the investigation into the murder of a Georgian man.
On the same day, the German Federal Prosecution Service, which had jurisdiction over espionage cases, had already decided to take up the investigation, citing a “political context”.
“You have expelled our diplomats, we are expelling yours. That’s all,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin answering questions from journalists on the subject after a summit in the “Normandy format” held in Paris on December 9.
According to the Russian leader, the individual was a fighter, very cruel and bloodthirsty. One of the operations in which he participated killed 98 people. He was also one of the organizers of the Moscow subway bombing.
Asked about the case by a German journalist, the Russian head of state also spoke about the identity and background of the victim, a Georgian of Chechen origin, named Tornike K and identified as Zelimkhan Khangochvili.
Putin said that the latter had “participated in separatist activities” and was wanted by the Russian services.
The Russian president did not specify what attack it was but Moscow had a series of deadly explosions since 1996. The attacks on the subway of the Russian capital have, in total, resulted in 106 dead and 520 wounded in the period between 1996 and 2010.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, for its part, had referred to an “unjustified” act concerning the German measure and promised reprisals.
“We consider that the statements made by the German side concerning the expulsion of two employees of the Russian Embassy in Berlin are hostile and unfounded. A politicized approach to inquiry issues is inadmissible. We are forced to take a series of retaliatory measures,” spokeswoman for Russian diplomacy Maria Zakharova said.
The Georgian shot dead in the middle of a park in Berlin On August 23, in broad daylight. He was killed by three bullets fired from a silent weapon. Witnesses mentioned an “execution”.
Tornike K had participated in the second Chechen war against Russia, before joining an anti-terrorist unit of the Georgian Ministry of the Interior, while maintaining links with Islamist circles with which he was close. He was considered by Moscow to be a terrorist.
Already targeted by several assassination attempts, he had emigrated a few years before his death in Germany. According to the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office, in charge of espionage cases, the murder was allegedly committed “either on behalf of state entities of the Russian Federation or on behalf of the Chechen Autonomous Republic”.
The alleged murderer is a Russian, since imprisoned in Berlin where he remains silent. This man is said to have held identity papers in the name of Vadim Sokolov, 49, who do not appear in the Russian databases. He had entered Germany, passing through France, two days before the murder.