Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the Russian suspects accused of perpetrating the deadly Novichok poisoning in Salisbury, England, went on Russia Today to claim that they visited Salisbury as simple tourists with a desire to see the sights.
CNN reports the two accused GRU officers claim to have made a 6,000 mile journey to spend three days in the “wonderful town of Salisbury” in March to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum (a prehistoric settlement), and the “famous” Salisbury cathedral.
In an interview with RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, two men displayed a detailed knowledge of Salisbury cathedral, noting its 123-meter spire and clock, the “first of its kind anywhere in the world.”
They claimed to have had nothing to do with the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. They might have been spotted in the same street as the Skripals’ house, they said, but they had no idea the Skripals lived there.CNN
The two suspects denied bringing Novichok with them, saying “Is it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume? The customs are checking everything, they would have questions as to why men have women’s perfume in their luggage. We didn’t have it,” according to the BBC.
Petrov and Boshirov also expressed a hope that the real perpetrators would come forward and that the UK government would give them an apology.
According to RT, the two men “sounded distressed” about being named by the UK as Russian intelligence agents alleged to have been involved in the poisoning. “We’re afraid of going out, we fear for ourselves, our lives and lives of our loved ones,” Boshirov said.
Last week, the British government charged the pair with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the Novichok poisoning on March 4 that left Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter, Yulia, critically ill and in hiding. Officials say the nerve agent was applied to the Skripal’s front door via a custom designed perfume bottle which was then discarded.
Russia has denied any involvement in the attack. UK officials say the Kremlin is conducting a disinformation campaign over the accusations, stating there are 37 different narratives from the Kremlin regarding the Novichok poisonings.
The RT interview came after Russian president Vladimir Putin stated on Wednesday that the Russian government had found the two suspects accused of being GRU officers are civilians. He also stated there was no evidence of criminal conduct on their part. This all seems to indicate that Russia is not denying the two Russians were in Salisbury after the surveillance footage of their activities was released by British authorities but rather is taking the position that their presence was innocent. The BBC notes that this is an ongoing battle between London and Moscow.
The amount of detail put out by British police last week, and the direct accusation that the men were officers in Russian military intelligence, was something the Kremlin will not have wanted to go unchallenged.
And the Russian government will be hoping this interview will generate sympathy at home for what are said to be a pair of sports nutrition salesmen who wanted to see a beautiful English cathedral with its 123-metre spire, but who instead have found themselves accused of being assassins.
But the risk for Russia is that the interview raises more questions than it answers and offers more details for sceptics to unpick and challenge.BBC
After the RT interview aired, a spokesman for the UK government said, “The government is clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service — the GRU — who used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country. We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March. Today — just as we have seen throughout — they have responded with obfuscation and lies.”