Fri, 19 Jul 2019

Two Russians with the same name as suspects in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a military-grade nerve agent have told Russia's state-funded RT television station they visited Britain's Salisbury in March as tourists.

The two men, who looked similar to the pictures of the suspects released by Britain on September 5, denied having played any role in the murder attempt.

'Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town,' one of the men said of the town of Salisbury in a short clip of the interview played by RT on September 13.

'Maybe we did [approach] Skripal's house, but we don't know where is it located,' one of the two men claimed.

British officials have accused the suspects of smuggling the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok into Britain in a fake perfume bottle and smearing some of the substance on the front door of Sergei Skripal's home in Salisbury, where the former intelligence officer settled after being sent to the West in a Cold War-style spy swap in 2010.

The attack left Skripal, 67, and his daughter Yulia, 34, in critical condition, but both have recovered after weeks in the hospital.

The men interviewed by RT denied carrying the fake women's perfume bottle with them.

'Is it silly for decent lads to have women's perfume?' one of the two men was quoted as saying by the Kremlin-funded RT.

'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.'

They also said they stayed less than one hour in Salisbury due to poor weather. 'We went there to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, but we couldn't do it because there was muddy slush everywhere,' one of the two men said, referring to local landmarks.

A picture taken on Fisherton Road in Salisbury on March 4 and released by the British Metropolitan Police Service on September 5 shows Aleksandr Petrov (right) and Ruslan Boshirov

The RT interview was aired a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country had identified the men Britain suspects of poisoning Skripal and his daughter, but claimed they were civilians.

'They are civilians, of course,' Putin said on September 12, contradicting the British government's assertion that they were officers of Russia's military intelligence agency, known as the GRU.

Following Putin's declaration, British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said that Britain's attempts to get an explanation from Moscow over the poisoning had always been met with 'obfuscation and lies.'

The two suspects are GRU officers, the spokesman reiterated, adding, 'The government has exposed the role of the GRU, its operatives, and its methods, this position is supported by our international allies.'

Last week, British authorities announced that they had charged two Russian men, identified as Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with carrying out the poisoning on March 4.

British Home Secretary Sajid Javid said on September 9 that Britain will catch the two men and bring them to prosecution if they ever step out of Russia.

Calling the poisoning a 'sickening and despicable' attack, Javid said it was 'unequivocally, crystal-clear this was the act of the Russian state -- two Russian nationals sent to Britain with the sole purpose of carrying out a reckless assassination attempt.'

The poisoning led Britain, the United States, the European Union, and others to carry out a series of diplomatic expulsions and financial sanctions against Moscow.

It has further damaged already severely strained relations between Russia and the West and has been a cause for solidarity at a time when Western officials accuse Moscow of seeking to cause rifts in relations between Western countries.

With reporting by AP, AFP and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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