The UK government Thursday dismissed as “obfuscation and lies” the claim of the two Russians accused of carrying out a deadly nerve agent attack in the country on a former Russian spy and his daughter that they were merely civilian tourists.
The men, named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, told Russian government backed RT channel that they travelled to the English town of Salisbury purely to see tourist sites such as Stonehenge, which is about 16 kilometres from Salisbury.
On Wednesday Russian President Vladimir Putin said “there is nothing criminal about them”, calling the two men caught on security cameras in the UK “civilians”.
The duo are accused by the UK of trying to kill Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March. The two fell critically ill but recovered after weeks of intensive care in hospital. Their current whereabouts are being kept secret.
Reacting to the statements of the two Russians, a government spokesperson reiterated that the duo were officers of Russian military intelligence.
“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“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.”
During the TV interview, two men displayed a detailed knowledge of Salisbury cathedral, noting its 123-metre spire and clock, the “first of its kind anywhere in the world.”
They claimed to have had nothing to do with the attack on Skripal and his daughter. They might have been spotted in the same street as the Skripals’ house, they said, but they had no idea the Skripals lived there.
British prosecutors said last week they had “sufficient evidence” to charge the two Russians with attempted murder and conspiracy to murder in connection with the attack on March 4. Prosecutors say the Skripals came into contact with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent.
UK police are linking the attack to a separate Novichok poisoning on June 30, when Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fell ill at a house in Amesbury, about 13 kilometres away. While Dawn died later, her partner Charlie survived.
Britain is not applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men as Russian does not extradite its own nationals. However, prosecutors have obtained a European Arrest Warrant and police have asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants too.
Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Salisbury attack.