Skripal poisoning: Putin says suspects ‘civilians, not criminals’

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The two suspects in the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter are civilians, not criminals, Russian President Vladimir Putin says.

The UK government named them as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, and said they were from Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU.

Mr Putin said his government had found the pair and he hoped they would appear soon and tell their story.

Mr Skripal and Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, in the UK, in March.

“We know who they are, we have found them,” Mr Putin said in the far eastern city of Vladivostok.

“I hope they will turn up themselves and tell everything. This would be best for everyone. There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We’ll see in the near future,” he added.

BBC Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford called Mr Putin’s words a “tantalising hint” that the two men will speak “very soon”.

“But the question of course is who will we see because don’t forget that, in the UK, the suspicion is that the two names that were given are in fact aliases,” our correspondent added.

Scotland Yard and the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service have said there is enough evidence to charge the men, who are understood to have travelled to London from Moscow on 2 March on Russian passports.

Two days later, police say they sprayed the nerve agent, Novichok, on the front door of Mr Skripal’s home in the Wiltshire city of Salisbury, before travelling home to Russia later that day.

UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid has warned the men, thought to be aged about 40, will be caught and prosecuted if they ever step out of Russia.

The CPS is not applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, as Russia does not extradite its own nationals.

But a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained in case they travel to the EU.

UK police said the two men arrived at Gatwick Airport from Moscow on 2 March and stayed at the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, east London.

On 4 March they travelled to Salisbury – having also visited for reconnaissance the previous day – where Mr Skripal’s front door was contaminated with Novichok.

Officers believe a modified perfume bottle was used to spray the door.

The pair flew back to Moscow from Heathrow later that night.

The perfume bottle recovered from Mr Rowley's home and the box it came inImage copyrightAFP/MET POLICE
Image captionThe counterfeit perfume bottle recovered from Mr Rowley’s home and the box police say it came in.

Police said Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley were later exposed to Novichok after handling a contaminated container, labelled as Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume.

Mr Rowley told police he found the box containing the small bottle and an applicator – all found to be counterfeit – in a charity bin.

He tried to put bottle and applicator together and got some of the contents on himself. His partner, Ms Sturgess, applied some of the contents to her wrists and became unwell.

The attack in Salisbury prompted an international row, with more than 20 countries expelling Russian envoys in solidarity with the UK, including the US, while Moscow expelled diplomats in response.

Last month the US confirmed it was implementing fresh sanctions against Russia over the incident. The UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, has also said Britain will push for the EU to agree new sanctions.

Since the UK named the two suspects, US, France, Germany and Canada have agreed that the Russian government “almost certainly” approved the poisoning of the Skripals and have urged Russia to provide full disclosure of its Novichok programme.

In response, Russia accused the British authorities of “Russiaphobia”, misleading the international community and UK citizens and of “disgusting anti-Russian hysteria”.

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