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Kremlin Denies Involvement in Berlin Killing of Ex-Chechen Commander

MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Wednesday denied any involvement in the recent killing in Berlin of a former Chechen separatist field commander after a Russian national was taken into custody as a suspect.

“This case has no relation to the Russian state and its official bodies,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters. “I flatly deny any link between this incident, this murder, and official Russia.”

The fatal shooting on Friday of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in a park in central Berlin raised suspicions that it was another example of Russia’s deploying an agent to target a longtime political opponent.

In particular, it added to the string of killings of Chechens who had refused to pledge allegiance to the Kremlin and Ramzan A. Kadyrov, who was entrusted by President Vladimir V. Putin to pacify the restive region with an iron fist.

The Berlin prosecutor’s office said last week that a 49-year-old Russian national had been arrested on suspicion of killing a 40-year-old Georgian citizen in a park. Martin Steltner, a spokesman for the Berlin prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday that the suspect had demanded to contact a representative of the Russian Embassy.

The German news media identified the victim as Mr. Khangoshvili and reported that the killer had approached from behind, shot him twice in the head with a pistol equipped with a silencer and then discarded the gun in the Spree River.

Mr. Khangoshvili had fought against Russian troops in the Second Chechen war 20 years ago as a field commander and close ally of a Chechen separatist leader, Aslan A. Maskhadov. In 2005, Russian special forces killed Mr. Maskhadov in Chechnya, while Mr. Khangoshvili fled Chechnya, in the Caucasus in southern Russia, to seek refuge in neighboring Georgia.

In 2006, the Russian Parliament revived a Soviet-era practice, giving Mr. Putin the right under Russian law to use special services and armed forces to kill potential terrorists anywhere in the world. The Kremlin has never revealed whether Mr. Putin has ever exercised this power.

Some high-profile assassinations followed, however, and many Kremlin enemies have died suddenly under murky circumstances. In 2016, a public inquiry in Britain concluded that Mr. Putin “probably approved” the 2006 poisoning in London of a former Russian security service officer, Alexander V. Litvinenko, with a rare radioactive substance. In 2017, the British government accused Russian authorities of trying to kill a former double agent living in Britain, Sergei V. Skripal, with a nerve agent.

Mr. Khangoshvili had been the target of multiple assassination attempts, according to his friend Ekkehard Maass. In 2015, he survived an assassination attempt in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, and there was also an attempt to poison him in 2009, the Caucasian Knot, a Russian news website, reported.

As the Kremlin consolidated its control over Chechnya in the 2000s by entrusting members of the Kadyrov family to govern it with unchecked authority, many Chechen dissidents and anti-Moscow rebels fled the region, settling in Europe and beyond. Many later died in what looked like assassinations.

In 2009, Umar S. Israilov, Mr. Kadyrov’s former bodyguard, was shot dead by two Chechen nationals as he was leaving a supermarket in Vienna. Mr. Israilov had accused Mr. Kadyrov and members of his inner circle of using torture against their opponents.

The same year, Sulim B. Yamadayev, a rival to Mr. Kadyrov, was shot and killed in a parking garage in Dubai. Mr. Yamadayev’s brother had been shot dead in Moscow the year before.

Mr. Kadyrov has denied all claims of his involvement in the killings, calling them a conspiracy to discredit him and Chechnya.


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