Berlin Murder Probe Triggers German-Russian Diplomatic Row

Patrick Donahue and Arne Delfs

(Bloomberg) -- Want the lowdown on European markets? In your inbox before the open, every day. Sign up here.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government expelled two Russian embassy staff in response to what it says is a lack of cooperation by Moscow in the investigation of a contract killing of a Georgian man in a Berlin city park.

The Foreign Ministry’s decision came after Germany’s federal prosecutor said earlier on Wednesday that there are sufficient indications that the ethnic Chechen victim was killed either on the order of an agency of the Russian federation or of the Chechen republic.

“We haven’t seen that Russia has offered support in the investigation of this murder,” Merkel told reporters after a NATO summit in Watford, England. The German leader said she discussed the matter with allies at the meeting.

The case could complicate Merkel’s delicate relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She said she’ll discuss the matter with Putin in Paris on Dec. 9, when they’ll meet along with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and France’s Emmanuel Macron, to seek a path to peace in eastern Ukraine.

Those efforts may now be overshadowed by the fresh tensions.

“We consider the statements from the Germans about the expulsion of two employees of the Russian embassy in Berlin to be groundless and unfriendly,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, according to RIA Novosti. “We won’t accept a politicized approach to the investigation. We are forced to carry out retaliatory measures.”

The brazen hit-job in Berlin took place in broad daylight on Aug. 23, a short walk from Merkel’s office. The victim, who has several aliases and is thought to have fought against the Russian army in Chechnya, was gunned down by an assailant who approached him from behind on a bicycle in a public park in the capital.

The suspected gunman, a Russian citizen, was apprehended soon after and has refused to talk to investigators. Germany’s federal prosecutor says he was taken off a Russian wanted list in 2014 for murder and later reappeared with a new passport. They also said he was employed by a company with links to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The murder has echoes of the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, on British soil in March 2018, a case that triggered a fallout in U.K.-Russian relations. The U.K. and its allies blamed Russian military intelligence for the attempted murder, while Russia denied responsibility. At the time, the U.S., NATO and 25 allies including Germany and France expelled nearly 130 Russian diplomats in support of the U.K., which kicked out 23 Kremlin envoys.

(Adds Merkel comments in third paragraph.)

--With assistance from Iain Rogers.

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Donahue in Watford, England at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net;Arne Delfs in Berlin at adelfs@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Raymond Colitt, Chris Reiter

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.