Reuters MOSCOW (Reuters) — Two Russians resembling men Britain accuses of jetting to England to try to murder a former spy said on Thursday that they were innocent tourists who had flown to London for fun and visited the city of Salisbury to see its cathedral.
Britain said it was clear the two men, who appeared on Russia’s state-funded RT television station, were agents of Russia’s GRU military intelligence who carried out the attack, and called their interview an example of “obfuscation and lies.”
The duo, who appeared acutely ill at ease, identified themselves as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the names British prosecutors said were used by the poisoners.
They said they had fallen victim to a “fantastical fatal coincidence.”
Britain has charged the two men with attempting to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia by spraying a chemical weapon on Skripal’s door in March.
The Skripals and a police officer fell seriously ill. A woman in a nearby town later died after her partner brought home a discarded counterfeit perfume bottle containing the poison.
The two men, both wearing blue jumpers, said they ran a sports nutrition business and that their lives had become a nightmare since London charged them with attempted murder after what they said was an innocent three-day trip to Britain.
“Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town,” Petrov said of Salisbury.
“There’s the famous Salisbury cathedral. It’s famous not only in Europe, but in the whole world. It’s famous for its 123 meter-spire. It’s famous for its clock, one of the first ever created in the world that’s still working,” added Boshirov, reeling off facts that closely resembled those laid out in a Russian-language Wikipedia entry about Salisbury.
Asked about the interview, a British government spokeswoman said: “The government is clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service — the GRU — which used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country.”
“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.”
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said the interview was “an insult to the public’s intelligence” and “deeply offensive” to the victims of the attack.
Britain and dozens of other countries have kicked out scores of Russian diplomats over the incident, and Moscow has responded tit-for-tat in the biggest East-West wave of expulsions since the Cold War.