Novichok poisoning – Suspects are civilians: Putin

Russian president says two men accused by the UK of being behind the attack have been identified as civilians and not criminals.

Background

British officials this month charged the two men in absentia with the attempted murder with novichok of Sergei Skripal, his daughter, Yulia, and a police officer who investigated the scene. Scotland Yard released CCTV images of the two suspects at Salisbury train station on the day of the attack.

Analysis

The two men accused by the UK of carrying out a nerve agent attack in Salisbury have been identified and are civilians, not criminals, Vladimir Putin has said.

“We know who they are, we have found them,” the Russian president said at an economic forum in the eastern city of Vladivostok, adding that the two men – named by the UK as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – may soon make appearances in the media to protest their innocence.

These are civilians,” Putin said in remarks reported by Russian news agencies. “There is nothing criminal here.”

British officials have said the men were agents of Russian military intelligence dispatched to kill Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who had given information to British intelligence. He was imprisoned in Russia before being released in a spy swap in 2010.

Putin’s remarks appeared to be a denial that the men worked for Russia’s military intelligence service, the Main Directorate, commonly called the GRU.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Putin’s call to the two men to appear in the media to protest their innocence marks a significant departure from his countries previous position which was to regard the evidence released by Scotland Yard as a  fabrication.