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Judges said they were convinced the Russian state had ordered the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili

A court in Germany has sentenced a Russian man to life in prison for shooting dead a Georgian of Chechen ethnicity in a Berlin park two years ago.

The court found Vadim Krasikov guilty of gunning down Zelimkhan Khangoshvili at close range in August 2019.

Judges said the Russian state had ordered the murder, which it denies.

Wednesday’s verdict could damage already strained relations between Germany and Russia.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock described the murder as a serious violation of German law and sovereignty.

She said Russian ambassador Sergei Nechayev had been summoned and told that two members of his embassy staff were now unwelcome in Germany.

In an earlier statement Mr Nechayev said the verdict was a “politically-motivated decision”.

Khangoshvili – who lived for a time under the name Tornike Kavtarashvili – was shot dead in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park on 23 August, 2019.

The 40-year-old Georgian national was a Chechen rebel commander between 2000 and 2004, when Chechnya was fighting a war of independence against Russia.

He had been an asylum seeker in Germany since 2016.

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Khangoshvili (R) was a close associate of Aslan Maskhadov (L), the Chechen rebel leader killed in 2005

Prosecutors said Krasikov came up behind Khangoshvili on a bicycle and fired a shot into his torso using a silenced Glock 26 pistol. He then fired two more shots into the victim’s head as he lay on the ground, killing him, prosecutors said.

Krasikov was arrested shortly after the killing, which happened a short walk away from Germany’s parliament.

During the trial, prosecutors said the attacker was acting on orders from Russia, and that he belonged to a special unit of its secret service, the FSB.

Prosecutors said he flew from Moscow to Paris and from there to Warsaw, before arriving in Berlin, using a passport under the name Vadim Krasikov.

“He liquidated a political opponent as an act of retaliation,” prosecutor Lars Malkies told the court.

In his defence, lawyers said the suspect was a construction worker. He identified himself as Vadim Sokolov and denied being known as Krasikov, telling the court: “I know of no-one by this name”.

But judges who sentenced Krasikov said they were convinced that he was acting on the orders of Russian authorities.

“Russian state authorities ordered the accused to liquidate the victim,” the Berlin court’s presiding judge Olaf Arnoldi said after sentencing.

“Some media suggested that Russia or even [Russian president] Vladimir Putin are on trial here,” the judge said. “That’s misleading: only the convict is on the bench. But our task does involve considering the circumstances of the crime.”

Russia has been linked to the deaths of other Chechen exiles.

In 2004, two Russian nationals were convicted in Qatar for the murder of former Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. They were sentenced to life in jail by the court, which ruled that they were acting on the orders from the Russian government.

In the media, the attack on Khangoshvili has been compared to the attempted murder of Russian former intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK in 2018.

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Khangoshvili was shot dead in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park on 23 August, 2019

Russia has previously denied it orchestrated Khangoshvili’s killing and dismissed such allegations as “absolutely groundless”.

In 2019, Germany expelled two Russian diplomats over suspicions the Kremlin was involved in the murder, and Russia responded in kind.

The verdict comes at a time of escalating tensions with Russia and will test the foreign policy approach of Germany’s new government, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Germany’s foreign minister has already vowed to get tough on Russia over its recent military build-up near Ukraine.

She warned this week a completed Russian gas pipeline to Germany that is still awaiting approval by the German energy regulator will not be allowed to start operating “in the event of further escalation”.

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