Germany moved to expel two Russian diplomats on Wednesday, after prosecutors said they had grounds to believe there was Russian state involvement in the killing of a former Chechen fighter in Berlin this summer.
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent, was on his way to midday prayers at a mosque in downtown Berlin when he was shot dead by a man on a bicycle in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23.
A suspect, who was carrying a Russian passport, was arrested within hours, but the Kremlin subsequently rejected any connection between the killing and the Russian state.
Germany’s Foreign Office on Wednesday said it had declared two employees of the Russian Embassy in Berlin as personae non gratae, effectively expelling them. The declaration was described as taking immediate effect.
“With this step, the German government is responding to the fact that, despite repeated high-level and strong calls, the Russian authorities did not participate sufficiently in the investigation of the murder,” the statement read.
“This expectation was most recently expressed by Secretary of State [Andreas] Michaelis to Ambassador [Sergey] Nechaev in an interview at the Foreign Office on 20.11.2019,” the statement continued. “Nevertheless, the Russian side has been dilatory [in responding] to the Federal Government’s request to cooperate in the investigation, as it has done in previous months.”
German federal prosecutors said they had taken over the case, saying there were “sufficient factual indications” that the murder was carried out either on behalf of authorities either in Russia’s central government or in Russia’s Chechen Republic.
“With regard to this presumed political background to the crime, the threshold of initial suspicion has now been crossed,” the statement read.
Earlier the same day, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he had “no information” about the murder.
Asked by CNN to respond in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday about a report in Der Spiegel saying a federal prosecutor suspected Russian state bodies were behind the murder, Peskov said: “We are absolutely unaware of this incident. There is nothing for me to add. The investigation is being conducted in Germany and there is nothing for me to state. We have no information available.”
Peskov added that the suspicions of German authorities would not overshadow an upcoming meeting on December 9 between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris, where the two leaders will take part in talks on the Ukraine crisis with their Ukrainian and French counterparts.
“There are not any serious suspicions, neither can there be,” Peskov said. “What does this have to do with the Russian authorities? These are absolutely groundless assumptions. And this subject is somehow being stirred up by German media outlets.”
Khangoshvili fought with Chechen separatists against Russian forces beginning in the early 2000s. A number of Chechens living in exile outside of the former Soviet Union have been assassinated in places such as Turkey and Qatar.