'They confirmed that their homeboy Alexander Mishkin was the person who moved on to military school and then became a famous military doctor and who received the award of Hero of the Russian Federation personally from president Putin, ' he said.
When Bellingcat researchers started looking into the men accused of using the Soviet-developed Novichok to attack Sergei Skripal and his daughter, they had little to work with - only photographs of the suspects released by British police and the assumed names that they used to travel to England.
The GRU has come under the spotlight after its agents was accused of trying to hack the global chemical weapons watchdog investigating the Salisbury attack. British officials have thus far not commented on the report. The two men had previously claimed to be Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, sports nutritionists with a passion for gothic-style cathedrals.
As with Chepiga, Bellingcat said it had identified Mishkin by obtaining his personal documents from anonymous sources and tracing his background through open source records, as well as testimonies from people who knew him. The town is exceptionally remote, inaccessible by road except in winter when the grounds freezes hard and normally reachable only by a narrow-gauge railway.
Bellingcat said it sought out hundreds of Mishkin's fellow graduates at the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, and that two remembered Mishkin, but they said that all members of the class had been contacted recently and told not to speak about him.
According to Bellingcat, Mishkin was born in the Archangelsk District in northern Russian Federation.
Bellingcat said they had cracked the puzzle of the man's identity partly through a mistake by the GRU, which did not change the first name or birthdate of the agents when it gave them fake identities. The award was likely connected to Russia's intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where GRU special forces were covertly deployed in 2014.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin wouldn't discuss investigative reports and media articles on the Skripal poisoning. But the latest revelations seemed to once again undercut Russia's denial that it was involved in the Salisbury poisonings.
Russia has denied any involvement in the case and has claimed the two Russians were in Salisbury on a tourist trip.
Chepiga, 39, had been assigned the alter ego of Boshirov by 2010, Bellingcat said.
Curiously, Mishkin's cover identity retained a lot of his authentic biography, including his real birth-date, his first and patronymic names, and the first names of his parents.
Sergei Skripal - who sold secrets to MI6 - and his daughter Yulia survived being poisoned with Novichok on 4 March.
The poison used, according to British authorities, was novichok, an especially unsafe nerve agent, and, analysts say, it was nearly certainly Mishkin's role to apply the poison, which is thought to have been smeared on the handle of Skripal's front-door.
The intelligence service provided Mishkin with a new identity and corresponding paperwork.
Higgins noted that Mishkin's home village is snowbound for much of the year. In another report, Bellingcat established that "Petrov" was specifically working for Russia's military intelligence, the GRU.