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South Ossetia denies assassination attempt on Sputnik editor

28 September 2021
Sputnik South Ossetia's editor-in-chief, Vitaliy Denisov. Photo: Natalya Ayriyan/Sputnik.

South Ossetian authorities have strongly denied suggestions that there was an assassination attempt against the editor of Sputnik South Ossetia, a Russian state-owned media outlet.

On 27 September, the General Prosecutor’s Office of South Ossetia said they were probing a possible gas leak, including through forensic analysis, in the flat of Vitaliy Denisov, who heads Sputnik’s South Ossetian service. 

Denisov claimed that he called the gas services on 21 September after smelling a strong odour of gas in his rented flat. According to him, two separate malfunctions were discovered in the heating system that caused the leak, one ‘resembling a cut’.

Denisov’s claim was contradicted by Gorgaz, the gas distribution company in the region. Local state media extensively quoted Gorgaz representatives saying that they had determined ‘with a high probability’ that the gas leak was the result of ‘ordinary wearing out of the gas hose’.

Images of the damaged gas pipe in Denisov’s apartment published by South Ossetian state news agency Res.

Initially, Denisov reported the incident to South Ossetia’s State Security Committee (KGB), which confirmed that a pipe in the heating system had been damaged but not intentionally. 

On 24 September, the KGB recommended he appeal to the Prosecutor General over the matter of a possible attempt on his life. 

‘A hellish provocation’

In a 24 September report, Sputnik South Ossetia quoted the Chair of South Ossetia’s Committee for Environmental, Technological and Construction Supervision, Taymuraz Kulukhov, speculating that the damage to Denisov’s heating system seemed ‘not accidental’. 

Within hours, Kulukhov strongly denied saying this. 

The same day, Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of state-run Russian news agencies Russia Today and Rossiya Segodnya, took the matter to social media, claiming that someone had tried to poison Denisov.

Sputnik South Ossetia, part of a multilingual international network, is owned by Russia’s state-run Rossiya Segodnya news agency.

‘I know how Ossetians feel about Russians and Russia. I have few doubts that this was a hellish provocation by someone who seeks to drive a wedge between the nations’, Simonyan wrote on Telegram.

Margarita Simonyan. Photo: Ekaterina Kuzmina/RBK.

According to Symonyan, South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov personally called Denisov and promised to find out what happened. 

Simonyan went as far as comparing the incident to the death of Igor Gal, a Russian advisor to South Ossetia on healthcare and social policy matters. 

Gal and his wife, Irina Gal, were found dead in a rented flat in Tskhinvali (Tskhinval) in February 2020. An official investigation found that they had died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a gas boiler malfunction. However, this did not stop the spread of theories of foul play.

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

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