Rus­sian poi­son­ing sus­pects speak out

In odd TV in­ter­view, the 2 men deny in­volve­ment in nerve agent at­tack

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY AMIE FERRIS- ROTMAN Karla Adam in Lon­don con­trib­uted to this re­port.

moscow — When Bri­tish in­ves­ti­ga­tors first iden­ti­fied two Rus­sian men as sus­pected nerve agent at­tack­ers, Krem­lin of­fi­cials said the names meant noth­ing to them.

Then, days later, Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin vouched for the two as just or­di­nary guys and any­thing but would-be hit men.

Now, the men have ap­peared on Rus­sian tele­vi­sion in a bizarre in­ter­view that in­cluded their de­nials — but also in­di­rect ques­tions about their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, awk­ward stares, and ac­counts of the weather in the quaint English town of Sal­is­bury in early March.

That was when a for­mer Rus­sian dou­ble agent and his daugh­ter were stricken by a mil­i­tary- grade nerve agent, Novi­chok, that nearly killed them.

In Thurs­day’s in­ter­view with the Krem­lin-funded RT chan­nel, the sus­pects, Alexan­der Petrov and Rus­lan Boshi­rov, said they were sim­ply tourists catching the sights in Sal­is­bury about the same time as the at­tack.

Their de­tailed de­scrip­tion of Sal­is­bury’s medieval cathe­dral and its tall spire was part of the lat­est in a se­ries of zigs, zags and twists from Rus­sia since Bri­tain last week pointed the fin­ger at the pair in the poi­son­ing of ex- spy Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter, Yu­lia.

Ear­lier this week, Putin ap­peared to make an abrupt U-turn from his gov­ern­ment’s pre­vi­ous as­ser­tion that the men were un­known to the Krem­lin. Putin, speak­ing at an eco­nomic fo­rum in Rus­sia’s Far East, de­scribed Petrov and Boshi­rov as reg­u­lar cit­i­zens and def­i­nitely not “crim­i­nals.”

On Thurs­day, it was Petrov and Boshi­rov’s turn. In a 25minute in­ter­view, they de­nied work­ing for the Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, say­ing they are in the fit­ness in­dus­try.

They ac­knowl­edged that they went to Sal­is­bury twice. But they claimed they cut short both trips be­cause of the snow and slush on the streets.

“We were drenched up to our knees,” Boshi­rov said.

Pho­tos re­leased by Scot­land Yard show the pair walk­ing on a largely clear side­walk, with a light dust­ing of snow, a day af­ter a big­ger snow­storm. The pair were also picked up by sur­veil­lance video in the vicin­ity of the Skri­pal house on the day of the at­tack, March 4.

“Per­haps we did pass by Skri­pal’s house, but we don’t know where it is,” Boshi­rov said.

When asked if they were car­ry­ing Novi­chok with them, both Petrov and Boshi­rov laughed it off.

“Don’t you think it’s silly for straight men to have women’s per­fume with them?” Boshi­rov said, re­fer­ring to the Nina Ricci vial that Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties said con­tained the poison.

The RT in­ter­view went on: “Speak­ing of straight men, all footage fea­tures you two to­gether. You spent time to­gether, you lived to­gether, you went for a walk to­gether. What do you have in com­mon that you spend so much time to­gether?”

Boshi­rov: “You know, let’s not breach any­one’s pri­vacy. We came to you for pro­tec­tion, but this is turn­ing into some kind of in­ter­ro­ga­tion. We are go­ing too far. We came to you for pro­tec­tion. You’re not in­ter­ro­gat­ing us.”

They ap­pear some­what un­com­fort­able in the in­ter­view. They of­ten sighed in frus­tra­tion and re­peat­edly gave ex­tended, glar­ing looks.

Af­ter the in­ter­view was aired, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment re­it­er­ated its as­ser­tion that Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties were ly­ing.

Some in Rus­sia be­lieved the men’s ap­pear­ance on RT had been staged. “The in­ter­view with Petrov and Boshi­rov had al­ready been set, oth­er­wise [Putin] wouldn’t have spo­ken about them,” po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Gleb Pavlovsky told the Ekho Moskvy ra­dio sta­tion.

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