Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov: will Salisbury suspects face trial following ‘blatant lies’?
US, France, Germany and Canada back UK theory that Russian officials sanctioned nerve agent attack
A Russian TV interview with the two suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attack has prompted a scornful response from No. 10, with Theresa May dismissing their claims as “lies and blatant fabrications”.
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov told the Kremlin-backed Russia Today news network that they had travelled 6,000 miles from Moscow for their short UK trip, from 2 to 4 March, in order to “hang out” and visit the “wonderful” Wiltshire town.
Their description of Salisbury Cathedral “appeared to have come directly from its Wikipedia entry”, says The Guardian. Boshirov also referred to it as the “cathedral of the blessed Virgin Mary”, a phrase rarely used in present-day Salisbury but featured on the information website.
The pair admitted they may have been in the vicinity of the home of former spy Sergei Skripal when he and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with novichok on 4 March. But Boshirov added that while they had “maybe approached Skripal’s house, but we didn’t know where it was located”.
According to CNN, the two men “appeared nervous and uncomfortable” during the “peculiar” interview, which came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested they should share their story.
“We, of course, looked at what kind of people they are, and we know who they are, we found them,” Putin told an audience at the Eastern Economic Forum in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok. “There is nothing unusual or criminal there, I assure you.”
Downing Street responded with scorn hours after the interview was screened. A spokesperson for the prime minister described the claims made as “lies and blatant fabrications” that “are an insult to the public’s intelligence”, adding: “More importantly, they are deeply offensive to the victims and loved ones of this horrific attack.”
The statement continued: “An illegal chemical weapon has been used on the streets of this country. We have seen four people left seriously ill in hospital and an innocent woman has died. Russia has responded with contempt.”
Who are they are?
Petrov and Borishov “travelled on genuine Russian passports and had visited the UK before the trip to poison the Skripals”, reports the London Evening Standard.
Police said they believe the pair flew into Gatwick two days before the attack. They then travelled to Salisbury to carry out a reconnaissance mission, and the attack itself the following day.
They “used a specially adapted counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle to smear the nerve agent on the door of Skripal’s home”, officers said.
Met Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said that detectives had intelligence and leads about the pair’s true identity, but said he was making a worldwide appeal to anyone who recognised them to help officers confirm their real names.
Who do they work for?
Addressing the House of Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May said the government had concluded “that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU”.
The GRU “is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command”, said the PM.
This means the incident was “not a rogue operation” and was “almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state”, she said.
“On the basis of what we have learnt in the Salisbury investigation and what we know about this organisation more broadly, we must now step up our collective efforts specifically against the GRU,” she said.
May promised “the full range of tools from across our national security apparatus” would be used to “counter the threat” caused by them.
Will they be brought to justice?
Downing Street says the pair are “wanted men” who must be “brought to justice in the UK”. However, the authorities have said they will not attempt to seek their extradition, because Russia does not comply with extradition requests.
The journalist who interviewed the duo, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, told BBC Newsnight that they had contacted her by phone to set up the meeting, and had insisted on a strict tranche of conditions that would minimise the chances of them being tracked down.
She added that the men had also agreed to send her images of their visit to Salisbury Cathedral - but had failed to do so.
Simonyan said: “They told me that if they found those pictures, they would send them to me on WhatsApp. I’m still waiting. They didn’t have them on them.
“I tried to call them on the phone on which they called me but it has been out of coverage. They said if they found the pictures they would send them to me but I am still waiting.”