Skripal suspects deny murder claim
MOSCOW — Two men accused by the United Kingdom of poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal denied involvement in the murder attempt in an interview on Thursday that London dismissed as “an insult to the public’s intelligence”.
Speaking with the head of the RT news network, the pair confirmed they were the men whose pictures British authorities released this month, but insisted they were visiting the English city of Salisbury as tourists.
British security services had named the men as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, but said these were likely to be aliases.
In a 25-minute interview, the men said these were their real names but insisted they did not work for Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, as Britain claims.
RT said the men sounded distressed and were sweating as they spoke.
Both appeared to be about 40 years old, and they wore dark blue jumpers.
Hours before the interview on Wednesday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia had identified the men sought by Britain and urged the pair to address the media.
“They are civilians,” Putin said, adding there was nothing criminal about them.
Britain said the attack was almost certainly approved “at a senior level of the Russian state”, an allegation that Moscow has vehemently denied.
The United States said it is planning a new set of “very severe” sanctions on Russia over its alleged use of the Novichok nerve agent in the March 4 poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh told a congressional hearing on Thursday.
Downing Street on Thursday called the RT interview “an insult to the public’s intelligence”.
Skripal and his daughter survived, but a British couple, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, came into contact with the same nerve agent in a town near Salisbury months later. Sturgess died.
Petrov and Boshirov said they arrived in Britain on March 2 and traveled to Salisbury the next day to see the sights.
They left after no more than an hour because of poor weather and heavy snow, but returned to the city the next day — March 4, the day of the attack.
British authorities said the suspects traveled to Salisbury twice to prepare for the attack and then carry it out.
“Friends have been telling us for a long time we should visit this beautiful city,” said Petrov.
“We went there to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, but we couldn’t do it because there was muddy slush everywhere,” he added, referring to famous local landmarks.
Boshirov, sporting a goatee, denied the pair knew anything about Skripal or the location of his house.
“We walked around and enjoyed this English Gothic architecture,” he said.
Britain alleges the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals was carried in a perfume vial, which Boshirov dismissed by saying: “Don’t you think it’s kind of stupid for two straight men to carry perfume for ladies?”