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Germany summoned the Russian ambassador and expelled two diplomats after an alleged FSB operative was found guilty of killing an ethnic Chechen. The 2019 murder took place in broad daylight in central Berlin.
A Berlin court has sentenced a Russian national, Vadim Krasikov, to life in prison for the 2019 murder of an ethnic Chechen in a park in the German capital.
Prosecutors said Krasikov was acting on the orders of Russia's state security agency, the FSB. They argued at length during the trial that Russian authorities had arranged an alias, Vadim Solokov, for the man, with him traveling across several European borders under that identity in the days leading up to the murder.
His victim, an ethnic Chechen of Georgian nationality, was shot dead at point-blank range in broad daylight on August 23, 2019. Krasikov was arrested later that day.
The defendant's lawyer has pledged to appeal the verdict.
Following the Wednesday verdict, Germany's new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her ministry had summoned Russian Ambassador Sergei Nechayev.
"We told him that two members of the embassy staff would be declared persona non grata," Baerbock said.
She described the killing as "murder by state contract" that severely violated German law and Germany's sovereignty.
Baerbock also said she spoke with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and stressed that Berlin "wants and needs" to have an open and honest dialogue with Moscow.
"This needs to be based on the international law and mutual respect," she added.
Commenting on the Wednesday ruling, Moscow said it was a "political" decision against the backdrop of "general anti-Russian sentiment."
"We consider this verdict to be a biased, politically motivated decision that seriously aggravates already difficult Russian-German relations," said Russia's Nechayev.
He slammed the claims of Russian involvement "absurd."
The ambassador also said that the court's decision was "an obviously unfriendly move" that will "not go without a response."
The victim was deemed a terrorist by Russian security services — he was accused of fighting as an insurgent against Russian forces in Chechnya, and later of being involved in a bombing attack on the Moscow metro.
"In June 2019 at the latest, state organs of the central government of the Russian Federation took the decision to liquidate [the victim] in Berlin," Judge Olaf Arnoldi said.
The judge noted that the victim "had not held a weapon in his hands since 2008."
"This was not an act of self-defense by Russia. This was and is nothing other than state terrorism," Arnoldi said. "It was meant to set an example."
Krasikov was convicted of a murder in which prosecutors said he approached on a bicycle before pulling out a silenced Glock 26 pistol and firing two shots at his victim from behind.
Once the victim was on the ground, prosecutors alleged Krasikov shot him in the head before riding away. The man died at the scene, but witnesses reported Krasikov and he was soon arrested.
Later, police divers recovered the murder weapon, a wig and the bicycle Krasikov is said to have used to carry out the slaying from the Spree River at a location near the crime scene.
The murder was carried out just minutes from the German Chancellery and the Bundestag parliament buildings.
The case became known colloquially in German as the "Tiergarten murder," after the Kleiner Tiergarten park in Berlin where it took place.
Berlin expelled two Russian diplomats soon afterward, citing Moscow's refusal to cooperate with investigations into the crime. Russia denied any responsibility and responded with a tit-for-tat move.
On Wednesday, Germany said it was expelling two more people.
Earlier in the case, Krasikov's attorney told the court his client should be identified as Vadim Sokolov, whom he described as "Russian, single and a construction engineer," and disavowed knowing anyone by the name Vadim Krasikov.
But the judge said there was no doubt that the man who pulled the trigger was Vadim Krasikov. Ukrainian officials had provided photos of the defendant's wedding with his Ukrainian wife, which proved him to be an FSB agent.
Prior to the midday execution, Krasikov had posed as a tourist, traveling first to Paris before moving on to Warsaw, where pictures of him sightseeing were found on a cellphone after the murders.
The judge issued the defendant a life sentence, also saying that the "particular severity of guilt" required under German law for potential lifetime imprisonment, rather than the typical maximum sentence of 15 years, had been fulfilled in this case.
"Four children lost their father; two siblings, their brother," the judge also said.
When Krasikov was charged last year, prosecutors said they believed the FSB ordered the assassination, and that Krasikov was the "commander of a special unit of Russian secret services FSB."
Prosecutor Lars Malkies summed up the case against Krasikov in closing arguments last week: "He liquidated a political opponent as an act of retaliation."
dj, ar/sms (AFP, Reuters)