Just a day after President Vladimir Putin urged them to come forward, the Kremlin-funded RT TV channel said it will broadcast an interview Thursday with the two Russians the U.K. accuses of carrying out a nerve-agent attack on a former spy.
Margarita Simonyan, the channel’s editor-in-chief, said on Twitter that the accused men “called me themselves” to conduct an interview because they “trust me.” She told state-run Rossiya 24 TV that she’s confident the men are those identified by U.K. authorities, saying they showed her their Russian internal passports.
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U.K. police released CCTV images last week showing two men in their forties, who had used the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to enter the country, traveling to and from the southern city of Salisbury on the weekend in March that the former spy, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned. He and his daughter Yulia recovered after treatment in the hospital. A woman later died after coming in contact with the nerve agent. Russia has denied any involvement.
“Not to have shown them would have raised suspicions these people were no longer among the living,” said Valery Solovei, a political scientist at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations. “This story is very destructive for the country’s reputation.”
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The U.K.’s counter-terrorism police chief, Neil Basu, told reporters the two Russians entered the U.K. on an Aeroflot flight on March 2, departing March 4. They used a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle to transport the weapons-grade poison.
Relations between the U.K. and Russia, already frosty, plunged into crisis after the attack. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May rallied support from allies for coordinated expulsions of more than 150 Russian diplomats, prompting tit-for-tat retaliation from Moscow.
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May said last week that the men were agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence and that the Kremlin had “almost certainly” authorized the attempted murder and the use of the nerve agent Novichok on British soil. “This was not a rogue operation,” she said.
The U.S., France, Canada and Germany said they had “full confidence” in the U.K.’s assessment that the two suspects were Russian agents and that the operation “was with the greatest probability approved at high levels of the government.”
The men are civilians and “we know who they are,” Putin told an economic forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday in his first comments on the U.K. allegations. “There’s nothing unusual or criminal there, I assure you. We’ll see soon enough,” he said.
Russia has provided “nothing but obfuscation and lies” about the case, James Slack, May’s spokesman, said when asked about Putin’s comments. “I have seen nothing to suggest that has changed.”
Putin’s defiant stance echoed the Kremlin’s approach to the 2006 case when his spies were accused of murdering former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko in London using radioactive polonium. U.K. authorities blamed two former Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, for the murder. They denied the allegation and Russia refused to extradite them.
Lugovoi went on to become a member of parliament and a regular fixture on Russian state television. In 2017, the U.S. imposed sanctions on him for his role in the case.
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