Moscow has responded derisively to a report by a Britiain-based investigative group claiming one of the two men suspected of poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal is a highly decorated colonel in Russian military intelligence.
A report by Bellingcat asserted Wednesday that the man identifying himself as Ruslan Boshirov is really Anatoly Chepiga, a military intelligence colonel awarded the Hero of Russia, the country’s highest honor.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova characterized the report as a stunt timed to coincide with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s address to the U.N. General Assembly.
"There is no proof, so they are continuing their information campaign whose main task is to divert attention from the main question: WHAT HAPPENED IN SALISBURY?" Zakharova wrote on Facebook Wednesday, referring to the British town where the poisoning occurred.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president’s administration had seen the Bellingcat report but dismissed it.
"Lots of people look like one another," he said when questioned about the physical similarities between Boshirov and the photo of Chepiga published in the report.
Putin has denied that the men in question are spies, repeatedly identifying them as civilians.
His government has been accused of being behind the March poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia with Novichok, a nerve agent developed in the Soviet era.
The report said the man identified as Chepiga, 39, graduated from the Far-Eastern Military Command Academy, one of the country's top training grounds for marine commandos and special forces.
He is said to have fought in Chechnya and possibly Ukraine, receiving the Hero of Russia award in 2014 for "conducting a peace-keeping mission," probably a reference to the Ukraine conflict.
The report said it was "highly likely" that Putin knew Chepiga as he personally hands out the Hero of Russia awards.