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Killing of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili shows why Russia won’t get back into G7

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German investigators strongly suspect Russian government involvement in the apparent brazen assassination of a former Chechen rebel turned asylum seeker in a central Berlin park last week.

This kind of attack could well prove the latest in a series of killings linked to the Kremlin.

If so, it would be another reminder of why opposition in Europe is so great to readmitting Russia to the G7 group of major world economies, as suggested recently by President Donald Trump.

The victim was Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent. He was shot in the head and killed last Friday as he walked through a central Berlin park around lunchtime, according to the German news service Deutsche Welle.

Witnesses say a man, later identified as a Russian citizen, shot Khangoshvili twice in the head with a silenced Glock pistol. He was caught by police as he tried to make his escape via electric scooter.

Officers say he was carrying large amounts of cash, a Russian passport, and a ticket to Moscow.

A map showing the Kleiner Tiergarten park in Berlin, where a Georgian man was killed in August 2019.
Google Maps/Business Insider.

The accused killer, identified only as Vadim S., a 49-year-old, had arrived in Berlin a form Paris a few days before the killing, German prosecutors said.

He is currently being investigated over potential links to Russian security services, according to statements made by prosecutors.

Khangoshvili had fled his native Georgia in the past five years after at least two attempts on his life by unknown assassins to seek asylum in Germany.

A Georgian official confirmed to Business Insider some of his history: that Khangoshvili was instrumental in negotiating a peaceful solution to an armed standoff and hostage situation between Georgian government troops and Chechen militants in 2012 in a remote mountainous region along the border with Russia.

Despite living under an alias in Tbilisi Georgia for years with some government protection, Khangoshvili survived at least two assassination attempts before attempting to receive asylum in Germany.

President Donald Trump with other world leaders at the G7 meeting. Trump has suggested inviting Russia to rejoin the group.
Reuters

The Russian government approved a law in 2006 that authorizes foreign assassinations of anyone believed to be a “terrorist threat” to the Russian state.

Khangoshvili would easily qualify for this in the eyes of Russian security services, given his long-time role as a commander and militant with Chechen forces fighting Russia for independence.

While Russia has never admitted using the assassination law, President Vladimir Putin’s government is widely suspected of having ordered and conducted targeted killings repeatedly.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Thursday, August 22, 2019.
Associated Press

The most recent high-profile example was the attempted assassination in the UK of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

That attempt, which involved a secret nerve agent developed by the Russian military, left the UK government livid. A police officer and an innocent bystander were poisoned by what investigators discovered was a clumsy plan by two suspected Russian intelligence officers to spray the nerve agent on Skripal’s door.

Skripal, his daughter, and a police officer were all infected but eventually recovered. One woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after exposure to the agent via discarded trash.

A photo showing what UK police say is packaging used to carry a powerful nerve agent disguised as perfume.
London Metropolitan Police

With the backing of a number of NATO allies, the UK forced scores of Russian diplomats suspected of espionage out of Europe as a response to the Skripal attack.

If the Khangoshvili killing is definitively linked to the Russian security services, it would further erode the relationship between western Europe and Russia, which has already been torn apart by not only the Skripal plot but the 2014 Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea.

As a result of that occupation, Russia was widely sanctioned across Europe and kicked out of the G8 group of the world’s largest economies, which became the G7.

Should German investigators prove their suspicions of official Russian involvement, it would represent another diplomatic blow to the efforts to rehabilitate Putin’s image as a ruthless murderer.

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