Two men accused by London of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a military-grade nerve agent have told Russia‘s state-funded RT television station they visited the British city of Salisbury in March as tourists.
“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.
“Isn’t 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.”
“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.
“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,” it said in a statement.
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.
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.”
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.”
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